American tennis prodigy Donald Young (above).
Donald Young, the Atlanta native by way of Illinois who perhaps had the greatest junior career of any American in recent memory, had his best ever win way back in 2007 as an 18 year old at the US Open, in the 2nd round at Flushing against Richard Gasquet. It was a walk-over. So Young was gifted into the 3rd round there that year, still his best major outcome, stormed out against Feliciano Lopez in round 3, won the 1st set, dropped the 2nd, and then dropped a close tie-breaker 7-5 in the 3rd set in which every fan watching knew that the breaker’s outcome would decide the match. Young provided some incredible highlights against Lopez in that match, like when he backed up to the fence and then lept like his idol, Michael Jordan, to return a smash from Lopez that somehow went for a winner.
Young must have a favorable matchup with the hard serving Lopez. The next year, in 2008, Young defeated the Spaniard at Indian Wells. Lopez was ranked world #32 at the time, and until about 8 PM EST tonight, that meager result was still his greatest win. Young, who won the Easter Bowl, the Orange Bowl, Junior Wimbledon, and Junior Australian Opens was the youngest ever junior world number one, and is still the only black junior number one. As a pro, the contrast in terms of success has been stark. We’ve seen him play a few good random sets, and frankly, he’s lost most of those. Going toe to toe with Nikolay Davydenko for 25 minutes and then petering out is not the mark of the coming of the next great American. Nor is almost taking John Isner to a tie-breaker, or going 5 sets with James Blake at the Open and losing. The best result other than the Gasquet walkover and the IW Lopez victory was probably an obscure win over Alejandro Falla.
We are big Young supporters, but he has quite honestly been making a fool out of us. He needed to hit a home run sooner or later. We weren’t about to press him when he was 18, and that was the last time he showed the tennis world much. We didn’t press him at 19. Or 20. We even said that we thought he deserved to be in the main draw at the AO in January, having watched his ranking climb to around 100. We feel like we were the only ones watching him. And as tennis fans, we fully understood that he has exhausted all of his free passes into the majors. He qualified. Good for him for earning his way and not having to hear any talk of who that spot should rightfully have gone to. But Marin Cilic totally dusted him in round 1, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, ending any magic carpet ride before it began. Young deserved to lose. He did not bring it, could not get into points with Cilic, who dominated DY with his power, leaving the DY criticisms about his slight frame and lack of power, not only valid, but resounding.
So we were very proud to see Young defeat Andy Murray today, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in one hour and 33 minutes. The very slow IW Plexicushion, which we feel is an utter embarrassment of a hardcourt, is not a good court for Young, in our estimation. Sure these awful plexipaved courts, topped out with max sand to further slow an already dampened ball, have favored counter punchers like Nadal in Australia, and Canas versus Federer here, but they also can favor the very big hitter who has the power to hit through the court or still get max pop on their serve, like Karlovic today, like Tsonga in Melbourne, like Federer in Melbourne versus Murray.
Playing safe against Murray is not the strategy that’s best. Murray is going to dink and dunk you, is one of the kings of safe play himself, but he just did not play the big points well enough today. You are only as good as your second serve, and that’s probably Murray’s greatest weakness, after his passive style. Murray claimed only 28% of his second balls, and was broken 4 times in the match. Young may not have hit a ton of winners, but he surprised us with his ability to hit through the court, which kept the pressure squarely on the Scot. In the end, Young held a 74-62 advantage in total points, despite hitting just one ace and dumping in 7 double faults.
Young played the bigger points better today than world #5 Andy Murray. That’s a step forward for the American, who we really want to see good things happen for. Style aside, we have always regarded Young as a very talented kid with a diverse game, and nice touch. The pressure of being junior #1 and American prodigy status has only made more difficult his transition to the pro game, and we hope today’s win is a sign that he is finally starting to figure some things out.
Young couldn’t hope for a kinder 3rd round matchup. Next up will be #25 Tommy Robredo, a guy who doesn’t have the type of weapons to scare anyone. A few years back when Robredo was in the top 10, my friends and I dubbed him the top 10 player you’d most want to play if you absolutely needed a win. Opportunity knocks.
The ball’s in Young’s court. Hopefully, he keeps doing something with it.