Just four years ago, Donald Young was on top of the junior tennis world. At 16, the swift-moving lefty was the youngest player to be ranked No. 1 in the world and the first African American to earn that honor. Former pro John McEnroe, who saw a bit of his game in Young, was among his early supporters. Describing the similarity, McEnroe once said: “He has hands like another lefty I know.”
Richard Williams, father of No. 2 Serena and No. 3 Venus, said Young “definitely has the goods” to be a top player. “If he ever gets serious, he’s going to do some damage,” Williams said.
Now, it seems that Young, a 20-year-old Georgia pro, might suffer the same fate as many other promising young players, who excelled as juniors but – for various reasons – never found a path to greatness on the pro tour. In 2007, Young became the youngest player (18 years, 5 months) to crack the top 100 on the men’s tour. But lately, Young, who turned 20 last July, has slipped in the rankings and feels abandoned by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), which passed him by when handing out wild cards for the U.S. Open.
Now ranked No. 185 in the world, Young earned a U.S. Open first round berth the hard way, winning three qualifying matches. He was ousted on opening day by Tommy Robredo 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“I feel like I want to earn my way now,” Young said. Still, Young, who received a wild card into the 2007 U.S. Open, seemed disturbed by the USTA’s decision to deny him a wild card this year.
“That (receiving a wild card) would have been nice,” he said. “But they give it to whoever they want to give it to.”
Some say Young ventured onto the pro tour prematurely, that he was emotionally and physically ill-prepared for such a demanding lifestyle. He was only 15 and looked it. He didn’t win a match at ATP Tour events during his rookie year and because he was slight in stature, bigger players easily overpowered him. Others say that Young needs to alter his training regimen and become aligned with a top tennis academy such as those run by the USTA in Boca Raton, FL. and Carson City, CA.
Indeed, Young said he recently received a letter from USTA officials, suggesting that he sever his ties to the South Fulton Tennis Center, outside Atlanta, if he wanted to receive their support. The College Park, Ga. center is operated by Young’s parents, Donald Sr. and Illona, teaching pros who also coach their son.
“I’m not kicking out what got me here,” Young said. “It’s pretty hard to tell the people who got you to where you are not to talk to you. Where I come from the family is a pretty big thing.”
USTA director of public relations said the letter Young received never mentioned his parents. “It mentions what he should do to play at the professional level,” Curry said.
Said Young: “That’s what it (letter) pretty much says and I’m not going to totally get rid of my base.”
Besides the Williams sisters Serena and No. 21 James Blake, Young and qualifier Shenay Perry were the only other African Americans to qualify for the U.S. Open main draws this year.
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