How Not to Develop a Prodigy: Donald Young Tweets “Fu– USTA.” Will USTA Dump Him?

Patrick McEnroe

Donald Young

At this point, I wonder if the USTA will just cut ties with Donald Young. This could be its big chance to get rid of its biggest headache. And in some ways, that might be best for both sides. A nightmare relationship between prodigy and governing body hit an unbelievable depth Friday when Young wrote this on his Twitter account:

“Fu– USTA!! Their full of sh–! They have screwed me for the last time!’’

Only he didn’t shorten the words to keep them clean enough for publication. (Yes, he wrote “Their’’ instead of “They’re’’).

You just can’t write that, uh, stuff. You can disagree. You can point out that they are bullying you, that they are favoring others over you, that they are lying to you. Young and his parents, who coach him, have accused the USTA of all of those things over the years. But you can’t say Fu—them. Not publicly. Every line was stepped over, stomped on, spit on. That said, my first reaction was that Young is wrong:

The USTA will absolutely screw him again.

No matter how this thing is portrayed, no matter how the USTA tries to put this all on Young – today, Patrick McEnroe, head of USTA’s player development, will have a teleconference – this is a two-sided coin.

And the USTA had better be very careful. Let me put it bluntly: In a sport that has a history of being extremely white, it’s bad enough that the USTA can’t get along with one of the only black players to actually come through its system. It gets worse if that means all effort and hope are given instead to Ryan Harrison, a white kid from the south. That’s assuming Harrison’s relationship with the USTA is still solid.

And I’m not sure it is.

But the Young family is already looking at Harrison and making comparisons, wondering about special treatment. “Look at who gets all the wildcards (free and automatic entries into tournaments),’’ someone close to Young told me recently.

What an amazing run this has been for Young and the USTA, an amazing run of failure. It is not just a story of a failed kid, but also a failed governing body.

They have failed each other, failed themselves, failed you and me and the tennis world. At this point, Young and the USTA both look like losers. You want to pick sides? Go ahead.

This is the story of how not to develop a prodigy. He has been fumbled and mishandled by his own parents, by the USTA, by agents and by a hype machine that started with John McEnroe. Plus, Young has mishandled himself.

And what did we get? Not the savior of U.S. tennis, that’s for sure. Not a good-looking black kid from inner-city Chicago providing an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime boost to a game that could have used him.

Maybe Young, handled perfectly, wasn’t going to get there anyway. He doesn’t seem to know how to fight, isn’t mature enough and has awful footwork.

But just last month the public pitch was that he and the USTA had finally come together. Young had worked with the USTA’s coaches and players, and Davis Cup captain Jim Courier said Young had top 50 talent, but had to continue to work hard. Young talked about his new work ethic.

And then he beat Andy Murray. Finally, a signature win. He’s still just 21, and is ranked No. 95. It’s not that he was headed for the top 10, but at least he was accomplishing something.

Forget that. Young apparently was angry because he wanted the USTA to give him a wildcard into the French Open. The USTA had set up a six-person tournament, including Young. Winner gets the wildcard. Young lost in the final of that six-person thing and then seemed to go straight to Twitter.

That’s what a source told me. That’s what Tennis Magazine wrote. But the Youngs aren’t talking. Donald later tweeted that he shouldn’t have used that language, but that his thoughts stand. Then, he shut down his Twitter account entirely. His mother, Ilona, responded to my email by saying there was nothing more to say.

But I just don’t think this is that simple. His anger isn’t based on one wildcard. The entire history and structure of U.S. tennis have not exactly favored inner-city black kids without a ton of money. So it’s fully understandable why the Youngs might be uncomfortable, why they don’t trust the USTA.

Meanwhile, at the 2009 U.S. Open, Young told me that Patrick McEnroe had sent a letter to his family with the threat: Leave your family and do everything our way, or we’re not going to help you any more. McEnroe denied that at the time, but all but acknowledged it in his book, when he said Young’s problem is his parents.

That year, Young said, he told McEnroe he would not ditch his family. Then, Young didn’t get a wildcard into the U.S. Open.

I’m not putting it all on the USTA. John McEnroe and IMG, his agent, went nuts promoting Young, who was just a little kid, as the next great thing. His parents took IMG money, and took wildcards into pro tour level events, getting their son crushed regularly.

So Young, with the maturity and professionalism of a 13-year old, doesn’t want to dance the USTA’s dance. And the USTA, mistakenly thinking of itself as an expert in player development, doesn’t want to fork over tons of money without control over its investment. It’s a fine argument and the sides can’t reach middle ground as they don’t trust each other.

The Youngs don’t know how to coach to a top level. And the USTA’s success rate hovers, roughly, around zero. So to Young, his parents, the McEnroes and the USTA. . .

You have really fu—- this thing up.


About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

6 responses to “How Not to Develop a Prodigy: Donald Young Tweets “Fu– USTA.” Will USTA Dump Him?

  • Annie

    Quote – “In a sport that has a history of being extremely white, it’s bad enough that the USTA can’t get along with one of the only black players to actually come through its system.”

    Why does tennis, or any sport, need racial quotas just to make some insecure liberal racists feel good about themselves? I don’t see anybody saying how the NBA should start looking for more white stars to promote.

    How about we do the truly progressive thing and find and groom talented kids, no matter what their race or background is? What a concept!

    Quote – “Look at who gets all the wildcards (free and automatic entries into tournaments),” someone close to Young told me recently.

    Proof positive the Young family is delusional. Who gets all the WCs? Um, Young does. There was a period not too long ago when it virtually guaranteed Young would be given a WC. It became such a joke that the media began questioning whether all the WCs was actually hurting Young more than helping him.

    The USTA has gone over and beyond trying to get Young’s career off the ground, but the spoilt kid with a massive sense of entitlement is not going to cut it on the Pro circuit. It’s much better for the USTA to cut their losses on this never-was star and focus on talents willing to work for their bread and butter, like Ryan Harrison.

    The Young family have only themselves to blame for their son’s failings.

  • roGER

    I’m in complete agreement with Annie on this one.

    It’s very clear that Young’s parents are ‘difficult’ even by the borderline fruitloop standards of most tennis parents (Jim Pierce anyone? How about that nice Peter Graf? Or maybe that lovely Gloria Connors? to name but three).

    With the perfect clarity that hindsight gives, John MacEnroe and IMG were indeed premature in spotting and promoting Young, although how wrong were they?!? In a sport played by millions across the world, Young is numbered amongst the best 100 men on the planet. If you’re the head of IMG, that’s not such a bad failure, not nearly as bad as missing the upcoming youngster completely.

    As for the USTA, their role is clear – to identify support and encourage promising American players regardless of race, sex, background or anything else. Right now if Ryan Harrison seems the best prospect then he should get the wildcard(s).

    As for Donald Young, the future is in his own hands.

    He needs to realise that Mom and Dad can’t cut it at the highest level, and stop interfering with his coaching. He needs to apologise to the USTA and explain that he was venting after a really hurtful loss (don’t worry, with a USTA rep named McEnroe, he’ll be heard sympathetically).

    Finally he needs to buckle down and win some tennis matches. He’s already achieved the hardest part, breaking into the top 100. Stop being a such a drama queen cry-baby and realise the future is in his own hands.

    His hands. Not those of the USTA. Not even those of Mom and Dad. Only he can have the patience, skill, discipline and determination to win tennis matches against the elite of the world. And if he can’t, then at least he can sleep easy at night knowing he gave it his best shot.

    Go for it Donald – prove the critics wrong!

  • Jeanniea

    ” but the spoilt kid with a massive sense of entitlement is not going to cut it on the Pro circuit.”

    You mean this wouldn’t apply to nearly all that are on the circuit now?

  • Wednesday Topspin: Gonzo’s Back | Heavy Topspin: A Tennis Blog

    […] over (in part) the French Open wild card.  (If you haven’t heard, Greg Couch has written a good summary.)  It’s unfortunate that this is happening when Young is playing his best tennis in recent […]

  • Jyotirmay Intellisense

    Its different thing rather than topic, Donald Young and Patrick McEnroe both are competitive.

  • Henry Cast

    Six years later the problems remain. Apart from Keys and *maybe* Sock, what have they done? Build a big facility. Which is great, that is what the USTA should probably stick with and give their money to the USPTA to see if they can do any better. Nobody could do worse!

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