(pictured above: Donald Young in action last week in Winston-Salem.)
At age 25, Donald Young has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly during his 10 years on the pro tennis circuit.
As a teen prodigy, Young created a stir when he won the Australian Open junior title at 15 and was No. 1 in the world junior rankings for a good stretch as a rookie. The next year, he became the youngest player and first African-American to finish the year at No. 1. Young won the Wimbledon junior championship as an 18-year old and closed out the season as the youngest player to crack the ATP World Tour’s Top 100.
Young showed more promise in 2011 when he made a fourth-round appearance in the U.S. Open. By the early part of the following year, the future looked bright as he ascended to a career-best 38th in the world rankings. The remainder of 2012, however, was disastrous. Young lost 17 matches in a row and plunged to No. 202 in the rankings.
“It’s been a journey,” said Young, who grew up in Chicago and now lives in Atlanta. “And I have to say that it’s been much more of a marathon and not a sprint. There were some ups and lots of downs. But it’s those ups that keep me going.”
Young’s career has taken a decisive turn for the better in recent months. He was placed on the Davis Cup team this spring. Earlier this year, the youthful left-hander turned in solid performances to advance to the third round of two Grand Slam events (Australian Open and French Open) and he reached the semifinals of the Citi Open, one of the stops on the U.S Open series.
In the Aug. 25th ATP world rankings, Young is 47th and he’s the second-highest ranked American behind John Isner (15th), the two-time Winston-Salem Open champion. Even though Young didn’t reach the finals of last week’s WSO, he delivered some memorable moments. In a marathon match that lasted nearly three hours, 11th-seeded Young lost a third round, three-set thriller to 5th-seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-7 (6).
The road that Young has traveled has not been smooth, but he’s thankful for having gone through a learning process that has brought him to where he is now. His present-day perspectives are vastly different from the time of his early years as a pro.
“It’s a lot tougher than it looks,” said Young. “The quality of competition is unbelievable. It’s a job and it’s work. At this level, you learn that if you’re not working, someone else definitely is.”
Although Young has made giant strides in the direction of his career, there remains a lingering perception that his work ethic is not what it needs to be. Young doesn’t take offense, but notes that he’s made substantial changes in his approach to the game. “For me, the gym is big,” he said. “You have no control how well your opponent plays on any given day. But you do have control over your own fitness and stamina levels. The only way to stay ready is to be ready.”
Patrick McEnroe, U.S. Tennis Association general manager for player development has noticed a difference in Young’s mindset. “I’ll tell you he’s working hard,” McEnroe told ESPN.com. “And when you work hard, you feel better about yourself. Good things happen when you put in the work.”
Young’s struggles are well-documented. But at this juncture, he’s not focusing on his past. And he’s not bemoaning the fact that it’s taken a long time for him to start playing up to his considerable potential. Instead, he’s convinced that he’s on the verge of taking his game to new heights.
“There have been some flashes and some flickering,” Young confided. “I just want to do all I can to make sure that the light stays on. I can’t say that I’ve finally figured everything out. I don’t know if you ever really do that. But I do have a good feeling about my career. It’s going in the right direction again. And, yes, I do believe that my best is yet come. It’s on its way.”