We are only six weeks into 2015 and it looks like America’s Donald Young is poised to have his best season ever. Now, it may feel early to jump to any conclusions, but consider this:
Young has already reached three ATP quarterfinals; the former prodigy had never made more than two per season. 2011, hitherto his best year on tour, saw him beat the likes of Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, and Andy Murray. But even then, he only made two quarterfinals.
One of Young’s biggest problems – one to which he’ll readily admit – is consistency, an inability to string together good weeks. After reaching the semifinals of the ATP 500 event in Washington D.C. last summer, the American failed to win back-to-back matches again until the qualifying rounds of the Paris Masters – at the end of October. Many thought he was starting to put things together after falling just shy of the second week of last year’s French Open, but he would go on to lose four out of his next five matches following that event, as well.
Jumping back, Young made the quarterfinals of Auckland, the semifinals of Memphis and is now in the quarterfinals of Delray Beach, where he’ll take on Ukraine’s Alexandr Dogopolov. Despite losing to Milos Raonic in the second round of the Australian Open, this is the best start to any season Young has had in his professional career.
For one touted as the next big star through his junior career, expectations have always been high for Donald Young. The hype machine was in full force from the beginning; he won two junior grand slams and rose to World No. 1, also winning Kalamazooo and the Orange Bowl.
It’s widely noted that Young’s entrance onto the professional circuit was likely rushed and premature. He played his first Futures event at the age of 14 and his first ATP World Tour event at 15. Young played a lot of tournaments in those years, often struggling against older, more seasoned professionals. In 2006, Young was double-bageled by Carlos Berlocq at the Miami Masters, a week after winning just four games against Tim Henman in Indian Wells.
For one used to winning, there were suddenly far more Ls next to his name than Ws.
Young is now 25. He’s reached one ATP singles final, one Grand Slam second week, and has just two Top 10 wins to his name. He’ll be the first to tell you that he thought he would be further along in his career by now, but he’ll also tell you he has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Whatever is thrown Young’s way, he’s seemingly ready to face it. A year following his best season, Young hit the bottom of the pit in 2012, losing 17 straight Tour level matches. He ended the year ranked No. 190, and it looked like a player once coined as America’s Next Great Hope was taking an irreversible nosedive. As any tennis player down on their luck must do, Young kept playing, knowing the only way to cure the negative effects of losing was to start winning.
He began to rebuild his ranking in 2013, winning three Challenger titles before gaining more momentum in 2014, winning 18 Tour level matches, recorded nine Top 50 wins and ascended to No. 46 in the world.
If you watch Young play, his trials and tribulations are clearly reflected in his on-court attitude. Once criticized for his lack of fight, Young is now visibly motivated. His desire to win and silence the narratives of unfulfilled potential is extremely evident. The passion and drive are there, no questions asked.
What we are also seeing from Young is a three-dimensional evolution of physical, mental and tactical prowess. Over the last year, he’s gained a lot of muscle. Looking much stronger than in previous years, he’s hitting the ball with significantly more pace, really beefing up his serve, as well. From a mental perspective, Young is showing much more competitive grit than he ever did.
He’s going after matches and not taking any opportunity for granted.
Where is arguably most impressive about Young’s renaissance lies in his ability to take his mental and physical improvements and intertwine them with a highly strategic game plan. Young doesn’t hit the hardest shots, nor does he wear opponents down with unrelenting consistency. But he does play with his head. His tennis IQ is up there with the best to have ever played the game. He applies different strategies to different opponents, surfaces, and even conditions.
Young’s instinctual desire to move forward has truly developed into his biggest weapon. He won’t blow you off the court with his serve or groundstrokes, but he can really take it to opponents at net. Proactive about moving forward as almost anyone on Tour these days, he has developed a wonderful intuition about when to do so. There are times where Young knows his opponents are going to play defense before it even happens; he is already approaching from there, looking to end points quickly. He has a lot of forward speed and his hands are very quick, soft and crafty. At a time when the game seems to be trending toward increased baseline play, Young’s resurgence not only heartening, but also refreshing.
Is this the start of something big for Donald Young? Remember, he is only 25, and it appears he is close to his peak. His game is not only more developed, but more critically, it is more intelligent. He has taken his skills and began to maximize them. He’s found a reliable strategy, and is as hungry as ever to win.
Donald Trump once said, “sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.” Donald Young has lost his fair share of battles over his career, but the war may slowly swing in his favor.