A few months ago, Pete Sampras was beating Donald Young in a groundstroke game, of all things, and trash-talking. Repeat: Young, a 21-year old groundstroker and one-time hope of American tennis, was losing to a nearly 40-year old legend at what should be the worst part of his game.
“He calls me `Princess,’ ’’ Young said. “And he talks a lot of stuff. . .I didn’t know whether to take it seriously or not.’’
Take it seriously, Donald. Sampras was joking, but the best jokes carry some truth with them.
Young was the talk of the first week at Indian Wells after his breakthrough win over Andy Murray, 7-5, 6-3. For the first time, we were able to see Young at the top level of tennis, fighting as if he belongs.
So where does Donald Young stand now? What does he take from Indian Wells?
Think about this: We have been hearing about him for years, but this was the first time it was for beating somebody.
On Monday, still going against a higher level, he lost to No. 28 Tommy Robredo, 6-0, 6-4. Young was awful in the first set, but kept fighting. In the past, he would have sulked and moped and given up.
Well, I’m not going to credit him too much for fighting hard. That’s basic stuff. It’s amazing he hadn’t learned that lesson before now, and also telling.
Word from US Davis Cup captain Jim Courier is that Young has started working hard, going to California in December to be with USTA coaches and fitness trainers, and also to play with US players Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish.
“Now that I’m starting to work hard,’’ Young said after the Murray match, “it’s starting to pay off.’’
Now that he’s starting to work hard. Well, OK. But again: What took you so long?
The good news is that Young is finally connecting hard work with success. But he said he has done that before, then become satisfied, then lazy.
That’s exactly why Sampras is calling Young a princess, to rile him up. Courier, too, gave a lengthy explanation of how Young has top-50 talent, at least, and that it would be a shame if he wasted it by not working hard. While Courier was talking with reporters, he was actually sending a clear message to Young.
So two legends of U.S. tennis are trying to salvage something for the next generation.
I don’t think Young will reach the top 50. But the frustrating thing with him is that he has never given his talent the chance to develop. You want him to make the most of himself, whatever that is.
People have been blaming his parents for years. They are still his coaches. They still travel with him. For the most part, I have defended them, though I think they made a huge mistake sending him against pros when he was 14, taking freebie wildcard entries into tournaments thanks to the power of his agent, IMG. Yes, it meant money to have their son with an agent, serving as a curiosity. But from the daily mismatch, Young learned how to be crushed, mentally and physically.
I asked Donald Young Sr. at the U.S. Open if maybe it wasn’t time to cut Donald from the nest, and he asked if I would allow my son to travel the world without me.
No, I told him. But my son was 11.
Young is 21, ranked No. 143, and seems to have one more chance. He’s going to have to make it as a man now, not as a phenom kid.
This year, he has gotten through the qualifying tournament and into the main draw of the Australian Open. He qualified at Delray Beach. And he qualified in Indian Wells, too, then won a round before beating Murray.
Did he know this was the first time he had won consecutive matches at the tour level in three years?
“I do,’’ he said. “I know more than anybody.’’
Truth is, Murray seems to be suffering some sort of hangover from losing another Australian Open final. Either that, or it’s something more serious. Maybe he’s having doubts about himself.
Also, Young matches up well with Murray, who dinks way too much, and just hopes his opponent will make mistakes.
Still,the match was validation for Young, his first validation.
“I was considered a bust at 17,’’ he said. “It’s tough. I’ve had time to think about all those things and work hard, and people are not paying as much attention to me like they used to. . .
“You could say I wasn’t working as hard as I could have been or should have been, and I realize that. I think everybody develops and comes into their own at their own time.’’
He now has to undo damage done to his game. He has thrown away years. Let’s hope he means it when he talks about working hard. The freebies are gone for now.
Last chance to stop being a princess.