WINSTON-SALEM — When the public address announcer introduced Donald Young as the “Young American’’ Monday at the Winston-Salem Open, you could almost hear a groan.
Yes, Young is 23 and, yes, he was once the top-ranked junior tennis player in the world. But eight years into his pro career, everything about the ATP Tour was getting old. He’d lost 17 straight matches, stretching back to a first-round victory in Memphis back in February.
“If that were happening to someone else, it might seem funny,’’ Young said. “Not me.”
Monday he extracted himself as punch line to a running joke. He came back against Leonardo Mayer of Argentina to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. To say Atlantan Young was euphoric might actually understate his relief.
“I didn’t know the exact number, but I knew it was getting up there,” he said of a 0-for-six-months slump. “That first set felt like some of the others.”
It looked that way, too. Young couldn’t get his service return in play and was melting down emotionally – cursing between numerous points and once belting a ball into a wall within feet of a lineswoman. Nothing dangerous or outrageous for a guy who’s gone through such a hard time, but Young realized he was emitting signals to his opponents that could only harm his cause.
“Guys see that (negativity) and they start going after you,” Young acknowledged.
Young has never made it easy for himself. He turned pro in 2004, shortly before briefly earning the No. 1 junior ranking. Never physically big – he’s now 6-feet and a scrawny 165 pounds – he might have benefitted from college tennis, where he could have developed gradually.
He had a well-publicized tiff with the U.S. Tennis Association. Team Young thought the USTA wasn’t doing enough to help develop his talent. USTA coaches countered that he wasn’t particularly interested in their feedback.
Despite all that, he qualified for an Olympic berth in London, which might be the only good memory from a grim 2012. He was ranked a career-high 38th when the 17-match losing streak started and he’s now 80th. Since he did so well at the 2011 U.S. Open, reaching the fourth round, continuing the losing streak through Flushing Meadow next week could have been devastating to his ranking.
So something had to change dramatically, and it did in the second set when 63rd-ranked Mayer’s serve slipped. Up 40-0, Mayer double-faulted twice the rest of that game to give Young a 3-1 lead.
Young’s margin for error is small. He’s not big enough to overpower, nor so steady he can out-grind most pros. He’s about a heavy-topspin forehand and confident movement, and confidence was in short supply until that second set.
“I’m not going to overpower anybody who is not 12,” Young said, only half-joking. “I’ve got to hit my winners through position on the court. I’ve never been a one-hit guy.”
But he’s finally a one-win guy. Tuesday against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez he goes for two in a row.