Old head, young shoulders


Originally published on: 19/12/11 09:50

For a 22-year-old Donald Young has squeezed an awful lot into his life. His formative years read like a Hollywood script. His ability to rally comfortably as a three-year-old, a chance hit aged ten with a flabbergasted John McEnroe, turning pro at 14, his journey to become the youngest-ever year-end junior world No.1 in 2005 aged 16 years, five months and the four junior Grand Slam titles that followed.

Initially at least, the Atlanta-based left-hander even made the transition into senior tennis look easy. He quickly climbed to No.73 in world as an 18-year-old and was the youngest player in the top 100. His rise towards the top ten seemed inevitable. And then he stalled. The wins became harder to find, the burden of being flag-bearer for America’s next generation of champions became greater and Young’s ranking began moving in the wrong direction.

Incredibly, during those dark days, it seemed possible that Young might never fully realise his potential. Victories over top players became a thing of the past and he ended the 2010 season as a regular on the Challenger circuit rather than the main ATP Tour, finishing the season ranked No.127.

“Don’t take things for granted,” is his assessment of his rollercoaster journey since winning for fun as a teen. “When I was 18 and I got to 73 in the world, the youngest in the top 100, I was top 75, it all seemed kind of easy, not realising how much work I put into it to get to where I was. Life lessons? Just keep working hard. Don’t give up if it’s something you really want to do. Listen to the people you trust and you can always learn.”

The good news for Donald Young fans – and there are many in the success-hungry US – is that the youngster appears to be on the rise once more, more comfortable with his position in American tennis and with a clearer idea of – and pathway towards – what he wants to achieve in the sport.

After a shocking outburst aimed at the USTA in April he knuckled down to some hard work with his parents – Donald Snr and Illona – who coach him from their Atlanta tennis facility. And the results have been impressive. He built on a victory over Andy Murray in Indian Wells in March by reaching the semi-finals at the ATP 500 in Washington DC in August before a run to the fourth round of the US Open later the same month – his best effort to date at a senior Grand Slam.

His adventure into the last 16 at Flushing Meadows included a five-set victory over Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka which appeared to prove to everybody – including the man himself – that he was back on track. “I think everyone’s light turns on at its own time,” says the world No.55. “I’m starting to feel like mine is turning on. Not everybody does it when everybody expects it to be done.

I wish it could have been earlier. It’s starting to come now and I’m excited about it.

“To get attention when you’re younger, you’re kind of excited about it. When it doesn’t happen you’re really disappointed, more so because you want to win yourself.

“Then you start thinking about what are people thinking when you’re playing. That’s definitely not the way to go.”

After a ranking jump of 72 places since January 1, Young is now ready for his next push up the listings.

“If I could make 20 or any higher [that] would be great, but right now it’s top 50. That’s what I’m aiming at right now.”

Maybe that script he’s been working to since he was three years old will have a happy ending after all.

‘Old head, young shoulders’ featured in the November 2011 issue of tennishead magazine. For more information about how to subscribe, click here.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.