Monday, September 22, 2008
On Monday, August 26, at the U. S. Open we saw 19-year-old Donald Young, Jr. give fellow American James Blake all that he could handle before going down in defeat. Watching Young battle Blake for every last point was the best that I personally have seen of Young since he transitioned from the ranks of the juniors onto the ATP Tour.
A lot has been voiced about the current status of Young's game and whether he is where he "should" be at this point. Since having the legendary John McEnroe utter the words "...has hands like another lefty I know very well," expectations for Young have been what I considerably high. The coming of Donald Young out of the juniors has been loudly and consistently heralded. The problem with that kind of lead in is living up to it. When Young wins, it's expected; when he loses, he's not all that he was purported to be. I would imagine that the pressure of that kind of press and commentating has got to be burdensome. After speaking with Donald I am pleased to say that the news surrounding him has far less to do with him than it does with those who craft it.
I had no particular expectations for the type of personality that I would be speaking with when conducting my interview with Young, but it was a sincere pleasure to speak to someone as polite, courteous and respectful as he turned out to be. My thoughts immediately turned to his parents because his behavior was evidence of someone having been conscientiously parented.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with both Donald Sr. and Illona Young, it became immediately apparent where Donald, Jr. received such an affable nature. My conversation with Donald Jr.'s parents/coaches will be revealed in the Wednesday Coaches Corner on October 1.
Though Donald's schedule was busy, we managed to cover the essentials.
Shelia: Let's talk about you first. Tell me about your childhood and growing up.
Donald: I am an only child. I grew up in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. We lived there until I was 14. I definitely enjoyed the people, the weather wasn't that good.
Shelia: When did tennis begin for you?
Donald: At three years old.
Shelia: When did you know that you liked tennis? That you were good?
Donald: When I was five, six years old...I played my first tournament.
Shelia: Tell me about being coached by your parents. Do you find that there are advantages to being coached by your parents?
Donald: That you like playing cause your parents are watching you. From the beginning to now they've been there; no one else knows you better. People come in for a lesson, but you are with them 24/7 talking about it. You don't have to get to know them.
Donald: When you don't want to do something you still have to be responsible with everything, and you have to work when you are playing, because they are worrying about your behavior and how you are representing your parents.
Shelia: Which parent is the toughest?
Donald: I guess it would be dependent on the subject. I would have to say, probably my mom; she's very detailed.
Shelia: Let's talk about the ATP Tour. After having so much success in the juniors, did the thought of transitioning to the men's tournament concern you?
Donald: I was playing some Tour and pro circuit tournaments before I was done with juniors. It was different knowing that I couldn't go back and play juniors, Kalamazoo.
It was different because I had to get into playing more weeks than we used to. It altered what you thought about tennis, how hard it is when as a junior thinking how some guy at 200, 100 or 80 in the world is, and then you play that someone and they are really good!
Shelia: Did you have friends of the same age that were making the transition at the same time that you were?
Donald: None of them kind of kept up with me, no. They either went to college, thought it was too hard or didn't play for other reasons.
Shelia: What do you think about the Tour now that you've been playing for awhile. Are you encouraged by your progress thus far?
Donald: It was different when I would go into the locker room and everybody was 28-30 years old and I was 17, 18. Some of the American guys were nice, Andy, James...And going to Davis Cup, Fish, Courier, McEnroe, Gullickson...
In general, the tour itself, this is what I wanted to do and I just want to keep getting better at it.
Shelia: With so few American men at the top of tennis and even fewer Black men, do you feel personal pressure on the tour?
Donald: When I am playing, and get off the court, I kind of just...I have to always look in the mirror everyday...when I'm playing, I don't think about that really. I will get it from other people and they will say it. I am pretty excited about it myself, personally, that they have that much confidence and faith in me. It doesn't really bother me, it brings support when I play.
Shelia: I was so disappointed to see you and James Blake paired against each other in round one of the U.S. Open. What were your initial thoughts when you saw the draw?
Donald: I was pretty upset playing the number nine guy in the world...unfortunate luck of the draw. Then I got excited to play in the Arthur Ashe Stadium at night with television coverage.
Shelia: I thoroughly enjoyed the match, and if you just had to walk away in round one, I thought that you walked away in good fashion. What were your thoughts immediately after the match?
Donald: If it had to be, it still worked out well, it was a win win situation...though obviously you want to win those matches
Shelia: What are your thoughts about it now?
Donald: I was pretty excited. I felt like I could have won. I realized that I can play big, I have to believe that I can do it.
Shelia: Did the match present you with anything that you will keep in mind for future matches?
Donald: I am excited. I took away that now I can actually play the ranking right now. I feel like now I have confidence.
Shelia: Tell me about your life goals in and outside of tennis.
Donald: I want to get back to making the main draw of the Australian Open. To win a title would be great for me. I want to get my ranking up to be one of the top players.
Outside of tennis there's not a lot of time. I don't have anything that I want to do right now outside of tennis. I do want to help kids, African-American kids, my parent's academy helps that.
When I am at home I participate with the kids. I've picked a couple of them up from school, they were excited for me to do so.
Shelia: Is there anything that you would like readers to know about you?
Donald: Just that I am working hard as I can.
Shelia: Okay, time for some fun facts. What do you enjoy doing during your down time?
Shelia: Your favorite foods?
Shelia: Your favorite book, and what are you reading right now?
Donald: The Da Vinci Code. I'm currently reading a book given to me by Allen Fox.
Shelia: Favorite Movie?
Donald: The Matrix
Shelia: Favorite type of music?
Donald: R&B and Hip Hop.
Shelia: What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Donald: Trey Songz and Young Jeezy
Shelia: Favorite video/computer games?
Donald: Wii bowling
Shelia: Favorite sport outside of tennis? Team?
Donald: Basketball - Dallas Mavericks
Shelia: Favorite vacation spot?
Shelia: Favorite grand-slam tournament?
Donald: U.S. Open
Shelia: Favorite place to be?
A special thank you to Ayona Anderson at Axis for coordinating this interview