*Flushing, New York – The 2015 U.S. Open has so far played host to everything from record retirements and stunning upsets to jaw-dropping turnarounds – two of which resurgent American Donald Young is responsible for.
On Saturday in third round play, the “peaking” 26-year-old did what he’s never before done in New York: come back from two sets to love down and win a match.
His post-match tweet summed up how he made turned things around:
In accomplishing the unprecedented-in-his-career feat, he ousted seeded players Giles Simon and, most recently, Viktor Troicki, from France and Serbia respectively. The wins, in addition to a second round, four-set win over Slovak Aljaz Bedene, have put him in the U.S. Open round of 16 where he’ll meet Stan Wawrinka and back in the media spotlight.
Young was a superstar junior tennis player who quickly caught the attention of several tennis heavyweights, most significantly the McEnroes, John and Patrick. They were awed by the Chicago native’s accomplishments (first African American and youngest man to become world no. 1 and won two Junior slam tournaments during his junior) and wanted to take him under their experienced wings. His outstanding accomplishments and resulting relationships earned him the USTA’s designation as one of “the next big things in American tennis” and he was given wildcards to enter the big tournaments to accelerate the earning of his stripes to consummate their hopes.
But once he made the transition from juniors to pro the wheels seemed to fall off his game. Instead of getting better and winning more, short of a few bright spots, his career began to wane. According to him it was partly due to “lack of fitness” and the lack of grasp on the psychology of being a pro tennis player, but whatever the case, his name was ultimately dropped from “who’s next” conversations. His fall was even punctuated by a very ugly public dispute with Patrick McEnroe while he was still president of the USTA.
Two new crops of budding young talents have come along since all eyes were on the now world no. 68.
“It thought they had moved on from me…” he said of the seeming lost interest in his career by US tennis leaders.
The recognition of being considered a disappointment to tennis aficionados and having the “results” to back those sentiments up seemed to have dug a hole for Young too deep for him to climb out of – at least not with hard work and determination.
And he’s engaged in just that:
“Fitness was a way that could actually give me an edge or something that would let me compete with the guys,” he said. I’ve definitely been working on that. That’s definitely something you can control 100% yourself.”
“You can’t control what the other guy does, but you can control how your body is, how much work you put in, how strong you can be and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And he did it at just the right time, because Pro tennis seems to be transitioning to a new place today.
Whereas youth was once considered an advantage and young players with the proper training could crash the party on the biggest stages, now age and wisdom seems to advantageous. The “big 4” are all either Young’s age or older and have almost exclusively dominated the Grand Slams for the last several years. It’s rare now that you hear of a teen breaking through as was the case in the past.
So, with Young not really being so “young” anymore (in tennis years), but having been in the sport long enough to garner valuable experience and on-court maturity (which could still use a little work, he admits) and now working hard on his fitness, he’s poised to build on this latest surge and become the player he was always pegged to be:
“I still have a while to go,” he said of this being the right time to peak.
“Look at the guys that are doing well. They’re like 33 … I’m 26. I’m right in the thick of things. That’s when a lot of people start to play well. I’m playing better. I want to continue it. I feel like I can improve things a little bit, it can be more consistent and I can keep moving up.”
In his match against Troicki inside Grandstand stadium (which he wasn’t happy about), not only was he down two sets to love, but one of those sets was a bagel AND he began experiencing back pain. Annoyed by his ominous circumstances, he barked at his box, the ball kids and others in the line of fire, feigned racquet smashes and earned a “profanity” code violation warning to which he responded, “I don’t care!” Earlier after dropping serve in the second set for Troicki to go up 5-0 and serve for the set, Young mouth over to his box, “I’m done.” That was a sure and unsavory recipe for a ticket home, but his last-ditch request for a trainer miraculously transformed his fortunes.
He took a 5-minute medical timeout and received a back massage from the resident trainer and just like that, he came out firing, earning a break straightaway on Troicki’s opening service game into the set. He already had the home crowd behind him during the match, but his apparent fight in the third caused them to catch fire. Chants of USA and “Go DY!” helped him find “the zone” and he never really let up from there. Troicki did all he could play his game and find the form that he’d lost, but he was up against two formidable opponents out there:
“Things turned around out there. They made the court feel like home …” he said. “Grandstand, [court] 17, such an intimate environment. Once the crowd gets going, you start playing better. It’s almost like the other guy is playing two versus one.”
Once the wave died down and, last ball was struck, and the chair umpire called the match, Donald Young – and his American fans – had staged yet another electrifying comeback and took down his deflated Serbian opponent, 4-6, 6-0, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“The battle here, the crowd, it’s awesome. It’s actually quite fun. Not going down two sets to love, but showing you can fight and comeback is a great feeling at the end of the day,” he said.
He even got some love from basketball phenom and Lakers star, Kobe Bryant:
Young will play Wawrinka – whom he beat at the US Open in 2011 – on Monday and is still alive with Taylor Townsend and Michael Russell doubles.