This was the script the Donald Young movie was supposed to follow.
The former tennis prodigy, and up until recently, current tennis disappointment, was supposed to be the Tiger Woods of tennis. Instead he’s been called a “bust,” a “failure,” with critics repeatedly questioning his work ethic and desire.
Young was discovered by John McEnroe at 10, won a Junior Grand Slam at 15, was a household name in tennis circles at 18 and nearly forgotten about by 2011, at just 22. Before last weekend, he was remembered more for a very public profanity-laced Twitter fight with the United States Tennis Association, than from anything he did on the court.
Now? He’s the redemption story. He’s the kid that is finally growing up and reaching his potential. And he may just be the next great American tennis star.
Last Friday, Young played arguably the most exciting match of the U.S. Open, defeating Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets — 7-6 (7), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) — and showing the same fight and will that most of his doubters claimed he’d never have.
He followed up that victory with a straight set win over No. 24 Juan Ignacio Chela last Sunday. Today he’ll face No. 4 Andy Murray in the fourth round. Murray, 24, has had much greater success in the sport, though Young defeated him earlier this year at Indian Wells.
Young was supposed to be a star too, but after years of disappointment, and even admitting that he thought about quitting from the game, Young is the player everyone is rooting for.
Maybe he got too much too soon. How else to explain a 17-year-old gracing the cover of major magazines before he was even allowed to vote? The early pressure clearly got to him.
In an interview with FoxSports.com, Roger Federer said Young:
“has been real good at a very young age. His coming onto tour was rather complicated, I think. Getting a lot of wild-cards (free passes into tournaments) and getting a lot of help creates a lot of pressure, right?
“So that’s hard to live up to. I had expectations, too. But I had them when I was 17, 18, 19. He maybe had them when he was 15, 16, 17. It’s a big difference. Seems like he’s making his move now.”
And he may be making his move just in time. It’s been no secret that there’s a dearth of American-born talent in tennis. Andy Roddick is the biggest name, and he’s clearly on the downslope of his career.
From looking at the feel-good stories around the country, it seems that everyone is rooting for Young. And it’s more than just cheering for a young, black kid to take over tennis. More than anything, the sentiment that this was an American player at rock bottom, making a wildly entertaining run, at a time when men’s American tennis is terrible.
There’s been other great U.S. Open stories. Serena Williams’ dominance is always captivating. African-American female tennis player Sachia Vickery and her mother Paula Liverpool have a heart-warming story of a woman that would do anything to help her daughter succeed at the game she was born to play.
But Young’s story is the one that potentially means the most for American tennis. And it’s his story that will make people watch and follow a sport that continues to see less interest from the American fan.
It’s obviously still early. Murray is one of the best players in tennis, and even with the way Young is playing, he’s a tremendous underdog in this match today. For a player that has lost to players ranked in the 300s this year, Young could easily flame out spectacularly today.
But even if he does, this run may be the restart he needs to get his career back on track. He’s still just 22. He is just starting to understand the commitment needed to excel at this game. Players like Federer and Nadal won’t be around forever. If Young keeps getting better, there’s certainly still time for him to reach his potential.
For now, it’s just fun to watch the redemption story take shape with each victory, with each lefty forehand, with each fist pump and loose smile. It’s clear Young is having fun.
This Donald Young movie is finally worth seeing.