Success on the horizon
U.S. phenom Young looks like he's on the right track
Posted: Tuesday July 10, 2007 10:14AM; Updated: Tuesday July 10, 2007 10:57AM
I've always thought that when it comes to describing an athlete, the word "potential" is about as relevant as carrying a raincoat in the Sahara.
Donald Young has been saddled with this type of moniker for the past few years after early success in junior tennis, chief among them the Australian Open junior title in 2005 and the USTA National Championships in '05 and '06. Young was immediately hailed as the future of American tennis, a can't-miss talent who was going to torpedo up the world rankings.
Unfortunately, reality got in the way of the fairy-tale script and Young spent the past 18 months fighting the very expectations that thrust him into the spotlight. The ironic thing is that now that criticism and doubt have reached their zenith, the 17-year-old is making impressive inroads, culminating in his Wimbledon junior title on Sunday.
"I felt so much relief after winning," he told me over the phone. "There has been so much pressure on me for the past two years with everyone always expecting me to win. Now after winning junior Wimbledon, I feel so happy that I accomplished something so special."
As these things often resolve themselves, Young is making progress on his own terms with his own timetable, not because of the expectations of others.
"Things got so bad in '06 that I stopped enjoying playing tennis," he said. "I was at my lowest point, but then I stopped listening to everyone doubting me and I just started listening to the people I knew cared about me the most -- my family and coaches. I worked hard, started winning some matches, my confidence increased, and I started to feel less pressure because people were giving up on me."
Another factor in Young's progress is that he stopped playing the bigger ATP events and focused on futures and challengers where he was able to compete against players who couldn't overpower him as easily. Gradually, his game improved. He learned how to win again and his confidence increased.
Young has made steady, if not spectacular progress in the lower-level events and that's all he needs to do. He shouldn't be deemed a failure if he doesn't win the U.S. Open by the time he's 18. Everyone needs to take his or her own path to success and I believe Donald will find his. He has too much talent, desire, intelligence and support to fail to become a very successful professional tennis player.
I got the opportunity to practice with Young during Wimbledon and saw first-hand his tremendous skill and obvious gifts. He has a great feel for the game and a deft touch, attributes that are natural gifts. He also is very quick and produces a lot of power, considering his slight 5-foot-9, 145-pound frame.
But what impressed me the most was how much his serve improved. Over the past 18 months, Young has received quite a few wild cards into pro events where I've also played, so I've had the chance to check out his game. His serve -- especially his second serve -- were tremendous liabilities. But he has obviously worked very hard on that aspect of his game and I think he is well on his way to turning his serve into a weapon.
Young is going to have a great career -- he has a champion's skill and the charisma to entertain. All he needs is to continue working on his game, build up his body and gain more experience. But most importantly, he needs to avoid the temptation of listening to other people's opinion of him.
Donald learned a valuable lesson early in his career, one that some players don't learn until much later: how to manage expectations. Young will deservedly receive a wild card into the U.S. Open later this summer, and let's hope it's the start to a great professional career.
Twelve-year ATP Tour veteran Justin Gimelstob writes for SI.com every other week.