SAN JOSE, CALIF. — It’s been seven years since Donald Young turned pro. In that time, he’s undergone an unenviable transformation from 15-year-old Great Black Hope to 21-year-old also-ran. After inking lucrative deals with Nike and Head, as well as sports marketing giant IMG, he’s never quite lived up the all the expectations, all the hype. The Atlantan reached a career-high No. 73 in 2008, but currently sits at No. 146. Despite solid results on the USTA Pro Circuit, he’s a disappointing 13-44 at the ATP Tour level.
More than enough to rattle your confidence.
“It’s wavered. It definitely has,” confided Young following a 7-6(2), 6-4 opening-round win over dreadlocked German Dustin Brown at the SAP Open on Monday. “At times I felt I couldn’t do it. Other times you win some matches and feel you can. It’s kind of just how tennis is — up and down.”
In January, recently crowned U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier spent some time with Young in Carson, Calif., where the 21-year-old was working with USTA Player Development coach David Nainkin and strength and conditioning specialist Rodney Marshall to ramp up his on-court endurance.
“I was very heartened to see that Donald made the commitment to go out to Carson,” said Courier. “One of the areas where Donald really needs to lift is in the fitness area. He has so much upside potential. He really is a terrific striker of the ball. He’s leaving a lot on the table because he hasn’t been in great shape.”
“If he can keep that up and keep the training and keep pushing forward and take his knocks, he’s without a doubt a top-50 player,” continued Courier. “It would be a real waste if he didn’t reach that at a minimum. He has a lot higher potential than that. But you can’t get there without the work. I don’t care how gifted you are, you talk to the guys in the top 10 and ask them what they do. None of them sit around. They’re all grinding and getting the most out of their games. Donald has to continue on in that vein.”
“It’s a lot different,” said Young of the new regimen in Carson, which consisted of five hours on the court, two hours in the gym, every day, six days a week. “When I’m home, I work hard, but it’s not as consistent if you don’t have someone on you all the time.”
A bit like boot camp, is it?
“It feels like it,” Young told Inside Tennis, “but that’s the way it probably should be.”
Young, who USTA officials have long encouraged to move away from the coaching cocoon of his parents, Illona and Donald, Sr., also worked out at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla., with Jay Berger and Satoshi Ochi.
“I feel like it paid off,” said Young, who still receives gear from Nike and Head but is no longer under contract with them. “But I’m not where I want to be yet. I’m just starting. I just feel like I can go longer and sustain my level for a longer period of time.”
As for Courier’s assertion that it would be a disappointment if Young fell short of the top 50?
“To be honest, I would be upset if I didn’t also,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who I’ve played, who I feel are my peers, and they’re moving up and have made it. I would like to reach it. I just want to get better. If I get better and play well, the wins will come.”