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After Struggling, Donald Young Gets A Grip On His Career

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One year ago, tennis prodigy Donald Young was ranked No. 576 in the world and in danger of flaming out of the game.

It was too early to write off the Chicago native at 17, but his confidence and interest were waning.

Young had turned pro at 14, perhaps unprecedented for a male player, and two years of getting hammered by veteran men at the top levels of the game were taking their toll.

Since then, Young has made a stunning turnaround. John McEnroe's prediction of stardom when he saw Young play at 10 might turn out to be accurate, after all.

Young is ranked No. 144 and seeded eighth in this week's $75,000 Swanston Challenger at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club. He meets unseeded German Simon Stadler, who eliminated No. 1 seed Sam Querrey on Thursday, today at 10 a.m. in the quarterfinals.

The frustrated, morose Young who lost in the first round of last year's Swanston Challenger has been replaced by a confident, smiling Young.

A 5-foot-10 left-hander called "insanely talented" by Andy Roddick in a 2005 Washington Post article, Young attributed his resurrection to renewed dedication.

"I didn't want to play that much last year," said Young, who at 15 became the youngest male player to reach No. 1 in the junior world rankings. "I had personal things going on. I was turning 18 (in July), and I thought it was time to start playing. I've played double the amount of tournaments this year."

Elaborating on the "personal things," the Atlanta resident said he "wanted to stay home, hang out with my friends and not travel as much."

Rather than work his way up from Futures to Challengers to the elite ATP Tour, the much-hyped Young immediately accepted wild cards at the top level. Beginning in San Jose in February 2005, he lost his first 11 matches on the ATP Tour.

The low point came in a 6-0, 6-0 drubbing by 81st-ranked Carlos Berlocq, a clay-court specialist from Argentina, on a hard court in Miami early last year. (Incredibly, Berlocq suffered the same fate in the next round against ninth-ranked James Blake.)

"It can get discouraging and hurt your confidence. But you're 15, 16, and they're offering you five grand to play a sport you love," said Young, whose parents are tennis instructors. "But you have to go back to reality and play on your level."

Young did, and it has paid off handsomely this year. He won:

• A $15,000 Futures tournament in Little Rock, Ark., in April for his first pro singles title.

• The Wimbledon boys singles crown and his first Challenger singles title, in Aptos (near Santa Cruz), in July.

• ATP Tour and Grand Slam matches for the first time in August.

"In the last year, Donald has put together points where he doesn't beat himself," said Woodland product Scott McCain, the coach of both past Swanston champions, Paul Goldstein (2006) and Rik de Voest (2005), and husband of former top-five doubles star and top-20 singles player Patty Fendick from Sacramento. "He was trying to hit a winner on every shot. He was trying to play like (6-4) Marat Safin, but he's 5-10."

McCain said Young reminds him of diminutive French veterans Arnaud Clement (5-8) and Sebastien Grosjean (5-9). Both have been ranked in the top 10, and Clement reached the final of the 2001 Australian Open.

"Donald is flashy, like the French players," McCain said. "He might hit heavy topspin on one shot and bang it the next. He's quick, covers the court well and has explosiveness. Once he learns how to use it, it can carry him to the next level and beyond."

Matches rained out -- Friday's singles quarterfinals were rained out. The quarters and semifinals are scheduled for today beginning at 10 a.m. Sunny weather with a high of 73 degrees is forecast.

Source - Sacramento Bee (SacBee.com)

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