A Prodigy Replaced: Donald Young Finds Motivation and Rivalry, Thanks to Success of Ryan Harrison

Donald Young having his moment?

Sometimes, it’s just the moment. Or maybe it was just time for it to happen. There can be a point when it all just comes together, and who really knows why. Well, I think I know why it’s happening to Donald Young right now, and what set it off.

Tennis waited so long for Young that it finally gave up. Now, as a failed prodigy, he’s in his first tour-level semifinal, at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington. He beat No. 26 Marcos Baghdatis Friday and should beat Radek Stepanek today to reach the final.

“I feel everybody clicks at their own time,’’ Young said. “The light comes on in everybody’s due time.’’

What made Young’s light come on? Two words:

Ryan Harrison.

Over the past few weeks, Harrison, the 19-year old, did something Young had never done. He reached a semifinal. And he did it in Atlanta, which is Young’s hometown. Young, meanwhile, was crushed there by Michael Russell.

The next week, Harrison was in the semis again, in Los Angeles.

Harrison has passed Young. He is not only a better prospect now, but also a better player. And all this messing around that Young, who’s 22, has done, all this fighting with the USTA (Remember his tweet earlier this year: “Fu—USTA.’’) and all his lack of focus and lack of work-ethic, well, let’s just say it’s hard to be a prima donna when everyone has lost faith in you.

But it’s impossible when you’ve been replaced.

Harrison is the kick in the pants that Young has been needing. This could turn out to be a beautiful rivalry. Harrison was unhappy last year when the USTA didn’t give him a wildcard to the US Open, but gave one instead to Young.

I’m not sure either of these guys is ever going to be a superstar. Harrison has a better chance than Young does. But way back, when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and Jim Courier and that great American tennis generation was growing up, they were not only practicing together but also serving as each other’s measuring stick. Incentive was there every day.

I don’t have the feel that Young and Harrison are friends, or will ever work together. But who cares? At this point, it’s just nice to see Young stop messing around and get serious about making the most of himself.

This rivalry doesn’t have be played out on the court together, and it doesn’t have to happen at the top of the game, either.

To clarify something, I just made it sound as if Young was entirely for his bad relationship with the USTA. That’s isn’t right. Until the USTA actually develops one star, then it is going to have take the blame for every failure. Young and his parents don’t trust the USTA to handle him right, and why would they? Who has the USTA handled right?

Also, this is not Young’s moment to reach greatness. Think of the climb to the top as a step-ladder. Young isn’t skipping any steps along the way. He is now climbing from the step that’s a great Challenger-level player, the level below the tour, to the step of journeyman tour-level player. I thought he had done that earlier in the year, when he beat Andy Murray. But it turned out that Murray was in such a funk at the time, anyone could have beaten him.

Young is ranked No. 128, but will climb into the top 100.

Harrison, ranked No. 82, has climbed levels this summer and his now a real tour player, too. Young is on the verge of passing him back in the rankings.

This is great for U.S. tennis, watching these guys pull each other up.

Now, Young is having some help, and some luck, this week. He beat Jurgen Melzer, but Melzer had to quit in the third set with a leg injury. Baghdatis had played six sets a day before losing to Young, and can be highly inconsistent. He’s rarely in shape.

And Young mixed up spins and paces and wore Baghdatis out.

“For sure, the expectations were high,’’ Young told reporters in Washington. “I didn’t meet them necessarily at the time other people had expected. But this is kind of close to around when I thought I would start playing well, for sure.”

Not true. Young expected to be great way before this. But whatever. He is having a moment now, when it looked like he might never have one at all.

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 FoxSports.com 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

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