It’s good to be Young again (#hopefully)
“Show me some love!” shouts Donald Young. The twenty-two-year-old is returning serves at Georgia Tech’s Bill Moore Indoor Tennis Center, off 10th Street, in late October, and he just hit a forehand into the tape. “Again,” says Mike Sell. The United States Tennis Association’s national coach is standing well inside the baseline, blasting 120 mile-per-hour serves at Young, while his mother, Illona, watches.
Young nets a volley, and yells something ungentlemanly. “Hit it harder,” says his mother. The coach launches another ball. And another. Young smacks five Agassi-like returns in a row. That’s it. That’s how Illona taught him. Now he’s joking with the coach sent, graciously, by the organization he ripped.
It’s been a strange year for the aging prodigy. In September, Young reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open, his best finish at a major tournament, climbing to 41st in the world. This January, he’ll aim even higher at the Australian Open. Last spring, he nearly ended it all—with fewer than 140 characters.
In April, Young lost a French Open qualifier to the 176th best player in the world. Having recently beaten Andy Murray, then ranked number two, he thought the USTA should have awarded him the wild card outright. So, after losing it to an unknown, he got on Twitter, at his parents’ house in Peachtree City, and pointed a brazen middle finger: “[Expletive] USTA!! Their full of [expletive]! They have screwed me for the last time!” read the tweet, hashtagged #enoughsaid. The USTA immediately held a press conference reminding Young, and the world, of their past support—including 13 wild cards.
Meanwhile, a re-tweeting orgy ensued. Roddickwatch: “The USTA has wasted more time & money trying to develop Donald Young into a viable tennis star. You either have it or you don’t. He doesn’t.” James La Rosa: “Screw All My Children and One Life to Live, Donald Young is my favorite soap opera ever.” Patrick McEnroe, General Manager of USTA Player Development: “Unbelievable.”
Young grew up in Chicago, the only child of two tennis pros. He played in his first tournament at age six, before he could keep score: “I won,” he says, “But I didn’t know it.” At 15, he turned pro, urged on by John McEnroe , endorsed by Nike and Head. He’s won over a million dollars since. But by the end of last year, having never cracked the top fifty, he was unsponsored. He needed help.
“Some of the expectations were a little high for a 15-year-old,” Young says. “You’re expected to continue at that rate. But I’m still 22. You don’t get old in tennis until you’re 27.”
Young spent last winter in Los Angeles, with top Americans Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey. They told him to work hard. So did his hero, Pete Sampras, who hit with Young, playfully dubbing him “a princess.” Living with his parents, who cook and do laundry, Young can focus on playing three hours a day, sprinting and lifting weights. (His parents run South Fulton Tennis Center, in College Park.) Hard work is working.
Tomorrow, he and his mother leave for a tournament in Basel. “I want to play well,” Young begins. His mother interjects: “You don’t go way over there at the end of the year unless you plan to do some damage. Before you leave, you’ve already spent thousands of dollars.” Young answers another question, then Illona sighs. “Alright, we’re running out of money. I put thirty more minutes in the meter, too.”