Jan/11

13

Forecasting Donald Young’s Future

Donald Young, once highly-touted as America’s future hope, and Ryan Harrison, who may well be the USA’s most exciting teenager since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick burst onto the court in Key Biscayne in scoring successive wins over former World No. 1’s Marcelo Rios and Pete Sampras, pounded palms as doubles partners on the red clay courts of Houston last April.
Can both Young and Harrison eventually create elbow room among a quartet of American men — Roddick, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey and John Isner — all currently residing in the top 20?
Perhaps a better question is can former junior World No. 1 Young salvage a once promising career that seems to have gone off the rails as he tries to gain some traction on the pro tour?
The good news for Young is that despite some wasted seasons, he’s only 21, still possesses a pair of soft hands, sharp court sense and is within striking distance of the top 100 at No. 129.
Now the downside: After playing through qualifying and beating then World No. 85 Christophe Rochus in the opening round of the 2010 Australian Open, Young registered just one more win against a top 100 opponent — defeating 78th-ranked Stephane Robert in the first round of New Haven last August — the rest of last season.
Young’s ability has not diminished even as his work ethic has withered in recent years.
So what is his potential?
Hall of Famer Jim Courier, who spent some of December taking a road trip around the States to personally visit top American men as he prepares for his first tie as U.S. Davis Cup captain in February, emphatically asserts Young is at least a top-50 level talent — if he’s willing to work for it.
“I was heartened to see Donald Young (practicing),” Courier told the media in a conference call on Tuesday.  “I went out to Carson and spent some time (watching) training with Rodney (Harmon) and Mardy (Fish) and that’s one of the areas where Donald needs to improve. He has so much upside and potential. He really is a terrific striker of the ball and I am hopeful (about his future). He is without a doubt a (potential) top 50 player. It would be a real waste if he didn’t reach that at a minimum. He has a lot higher potential than that, but he can’t get there without doing the work.  None of the top guys get there sitting around. Ryan Harrison has a huge work ethic and is firmly committed to exploring all the angles to get better. He’s still young and still raw, but he’s gonna get there.”

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33 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    “I’m heartened”: Those words do not ring as exceedingly optimistic for DY by a workhorse like the Rock. It seems he is still the same ol DY with the same mediocre work ethic. He may have the talent but sadly, perhaps not the confidence anymore to match it.

  • RIP · January 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    I look at it this way: A guy like Jurgen Melzer, another lefty and good ball striker, is playing his best tennis right now at 29, Schiavone won her first major at 29, DY is 21 and players ranging from Roddick to Hewitt to Courier to Querrey have all said he is a real talent.

    To me it is a question of desire and work ethic: how badly does he want it and how hard is he willing to work to get it. I covered Houston last April and in the doubles match Harrison, who is a few years younger, was clearly the leader on the court in advising and encouraging and pumping up DY. Harrison showed great leadership skills in that match and confidence (they were playing against Russell and Malisse if I remember right? But I felt like DY needed to assert himself a bit more.

    I’ve seen flashes from the guy before – the Davydenko match in New Haven, the US Open match vs. Blake – where he shows you what he can do with the ball, but then you see his Challenger results (to be fair I’ve only seen a few of those Challenger matches inperson) and it’s like how the hell are you losing to guys outside of the top 200?

    This is a big year for DY, but I felt last year was a big year and he drifted then. But he’s not far removed from the top 100. He could crack it with a few good results. HE just needs to sustain it. If I were him I would lean on a guy like Courier, who had a rep as the hardest worker of his era in his prime, and also talk to Fish, who reshaped his physique and saw his results skyrocket as a result. I know Roddick has practiced with him and Roddick, from what I’m told, has been good in offering to hit with the young Americans.

    I get the impression these guys want to help DY, are willing to advise him and it’s up to him to take charge of his career because he just seems too apathetic at times though every time I’ve talked to him or dealt with him he’s a very nice, polite, cooperative person. I definitely do not write this guy off at 21 – just go back to what we were discussing months ago: he needs a coach that can motivate him, fire him up, help his fitness out – get a guy like Red on board and I can almost guarantee the fitness would improve dramatically. I also don’t think he always goes out with a clear game plan and he’s certainly not the most patient, high-percentage player when it comes to point construction. He gives away far too many free points and you can’t do that at that level like you can in juniors.

    Years ago, when IMG was feeding DY all those wild cards and he was getting pounded, I watched him get annihilated in Miami and a Hall of Famer was sitting next to me. Asked him what he thought and the guy told me: “Sadly, he may never make it as a consistent top 50 player though he has the skills to do so.” Asked him why and he said “USTA hyped him way too much as a junior which placed too much pressure on him and IMG and his parents did him a big disservice by taking those wild cards when he was not ready – would have been far better for his game and his confidence to build up points in Challengers, play qualifiers and maybe take an occasional wild card, but they went for too much too soon…” This guy compared it to a boxer who gets a title shot after 12 fights and just isn’t ready – said it could have long-lasting repercussions.

    Still, I think the guy has a shot. He has ability. Would love to see him just string some wins together early to get his confidence going but it all comes back to desire and willingness to work, IMO, and we’ll see how it goes.

  • Mitch · January 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I don’t think he’s going anywhere until he gets a real coach.

  • Nancy McShea · January 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I agree with Mitch. It’s about getting the right coach who will inspire you to work, work, work.

  • Harold · January 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    In 3 or 4 years, you’ll be writing the same article about Harrison. He had a decent run at the Open,3rd round is nice, but the future superstars of the game made bigger runs at the same age.Media is hyping him way too soon, but this is US Tennis, a couple of wins and 60 Minutes will be at your door, or RP, Scoop and Danny Spadea..
    Case in point, just look at Oudin, struggling and losing to anybody and everybody

  • Dan Markowitz · January 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Totally wrong call there. Harrison will not be outside the top 100 in three years. I’d be surprised if he isn’t in top 50. Young is an unusual case. An only child, likes to have his parents around, even coach him, which hasn’t worked well. Good to hear he’s been training in California with Fish and others.

    Started the Australian Open off well beating the #230 player in first round of qualis 3 and 0. He’s 21, give him a chance, maybe he’s changing his ways. He has to find a key to unlock his prodigious talents.

  • Harold · January 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Used to be when we were talking up the next “Great American” we werent hoping he’d be top 50…Not that top 50 of anything in the world is a bad thing(even sportswriter), but the hype for Harrison just like it was for Young, made a case for them being top ten, not going to happen in either case

  • Richard Pagliaro · January 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    I’m with Red on this one: if Harrison stays healthy I would be surprised if he was not a top 50 player within 3 years. Comes from a tennis family so he has been exposed and groomed for what it takes to achieve at a high level. He’s a kid chronologically, but not emotionally or mentally. Just the way he handled himself after that Stakhovsky match – which obviously he had a shot to win – showed me a lot.
    Also, if you ever get a chance watch how Harrison practices. Watched him in Delray, Indian Wells and Houston and this kid is tireless. Whenever one of the older American guys asked him to hit he was out there hitting. The other reason why I like his game is he takes the time and puts in the work to develop and all court-game. He plays doubles, he can transition to net, he’s not afraid to come to net, he has a reasonably big serve for someone of his stature.
    I’m not saying DY is a top 10 player – never said that – but I do think he has talent. I just don’t know if he has the discipline and desire. But to write a guy off at 21, IMO, doesn’t really take into account that players not only mature at different ages they can peak later. Malisse was a Wimbledon semifinalist, went away for a while and has bounced back a bit. Melzer has played his best tennis by far at a later age.
    Speaking of Melzer, to any of you who posted on the old TW board, Xiowa recently emailed me and said “I wish I could get in touch with all the old TW posters who doubted Jurgen – I would like to tell them I told them :)”

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 14, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Remember Stepanek was a journeyman doubles player with Rikl and Novak but Korda saw something in him and declared he could be top 50 if he listens to me. Step was around 100 at the time and a non factor player. Sure enough, Korda was right and coached Step all the way up to top 15 and some big wins. Korda had the wisdom and words to ignite the inner talent of Step. This is what Young needs. We know he has the talent, his mom can’t maximize it anymore, DY needs a Korda figure, like a guiding light, to take over his game and career. Right now he’s basically a fantastic ship without a captain.

    Don’t worry about Harrison or any flaws you see in his game now, he is the real deal. He’s top 10, minimum. I’m absolutely positive. Like RIP says he is just so impressive on the court and off, born to be a champion. And he will be.

  • Andrew Miller · January 14, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Ryan Harrison may be paving the way for his brother, in a Venus Williams way. Or they could be the Rochus brothers. In any event, seems like U.S. tennis in in a Tim Mayotte-era rut, with McEnroe (Roddick) in his last years as a major threat, Mayotte (Fish) playing well but not winning big, Gilbert (Blake/Ginepri) giving one last hurrah, and the future – Agassi, Sampras, Chang, Krickstein, Courier, Washington, Martin, Wheaton (Young, Harrison, Harrison, Klahn, Sock, Isner, Querrey, Kudla, Britton) waiting for the wave of retirement sure to plague the ATP and catapult them into the top 100.

    Let’s be honest: mother time waits for no one. Roddick is here now (and he knows it too) but in 2013, who knows? If that serving shoulder is taking a beating more frequently, there’s a reason for it. There was a recent NYTIMES article about how the men’s top 50 showcases a lot of older players suddenly doing well – Melzer finding his range in his 30s, Ljubicic still around, and maybe the training IS better these days – but NO ONE – NO ONE can stop the retirement train.

    It’s a coming. Federer will be on it. Roddick will be on it. Davydenko will be on it. Some guys may stick it out in doubles, but none of that will stop the retirement train. Enjoy these guys while you can! They won’t be around forever.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Federer might be the next Agassi and more. He’s not had the injuries Andre had, and still moves very well.
    The retirement train stops for no one, but it can be prolonged in certain cases. I know it’s a different era, but Connors played singles on tour till 40 and was still top-10 or so at 35. It’s how bad these guys still want to travel and train, because the skills are still there, or could be, among the top and even not-so-top players.

  • RIP · January 14, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Surprisingly (for maybe the first time in the 20 years I’ve known the guy) I find myself again agreeing with Red – is this the sign of an impending apocalypse? 🙂
    Federer has really not had any major injury, plays such a fluid stress free-game and is still such a fantastic mover, I agree with Red: Fed could contend for major titles, like AA, well into his mid 30s.
    I see the same thing for Serena simply because despite her injury issues she has the best serve in the history of women’s tennis and does not really play that much at all so she does not have the mileage of others and when she does play (at least in majors) she still plays with ferocity and is highly motivated (at majors).
    People always tend to compare this generation of Americans to the great class of Sampras, AA, Courier, Chang, Martin, Washington, etc. But what many fail to point out in doing so is we are in an era of two immortal players – Nadal and Fed – these are not just great, Hall of Fame players, these are immortal players the likes of which I may not see again in my lifetime.
    That’s not an excuse for any American shortcomings – simply statement of fact. If you want to be fair you have to qualify it and say we are seeing two immortals right now and I would argue this may well be the deepest group of players in the Open Era. Djokovic has won a major, Roddick has won a major, Hewitt has won a major, Ferrero has won a major, Murray, IMO, will (eventually) win a major. Guys like Soderling, Berdych, Tsonga are dangerous, Gael Monfils is an athletic freak – one of the best athletes we’ve seen in years – though he can’t seem to translate his athleticism into a sound tactical plan.
    And to me if Juan Martin Del Potro gets healthy again this guy will be a multiple major champion without a doubt. His talent is scary – if he gets healthy, he’s so young, he will win more majors. I mean look at the Davydenkos and Nalbandians – these guys are dangerous players despite their ages – not saying they will rack up majors, but they are both players who have beaten the best and in Davydenkos case he has had Nadal’s number on hard courts.
    My point is, this is an incredibly competitive climate for men’s tennis, but having said that I agree with Red: Ryan Harrison will be a top 50 player – and higher – within 3 years barring injury. I would almost bet anything I own on that. I mean Gambill and Spadea were top 30 players and Harrison shows me more potential and more game than either of them (no disrespect intended).

  • Andrew Miller · January 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Dan and RIP are certainly right about Federer and his super-clean game intact. Yes – the strokes can hold up forever. But: the movement – it will suffer. James Blake has seemed to suffer a step – and Federer is better than Blake will ever be, by the most vast margin imaginable, but Sampras and Agassi suffered movement issues, so Federer will too. It happens.

  • RIP · January 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    It’s a true point about Blake, but it was John McEnroe, I think, who said years back that while Blake possesses raw speed and was one of the fastest guys around not necessarily the best footwork. If you look at Fed, he not only has speed, his footwork is obviously exceptional. Takes those short preparation steps and always seems on balance with the proper distance between himself and the ball whereas some guys who have raw speed and fly around the court are sometimes off balance. Speed, as McEnroe pointed out, does not necessarily equate to great footwork.
    Like Agassi was not the fastest guy in the world but had very good footwork. Connors was quick and had exceptional footwork. Borg was another guy with great speed and great footwork. The fact that Fed has both – that should help in that as his speed diminishes doesn’t mean his footwork will go with it. The other point is Fed has more options so he gets dragged out of position he can play the slice, he can put a bit more top on the forehand, etc. – he has more variety and more options which helps when you’re pushed out of position and helps in your ability to recover to the center of the court.

  • Harold · January 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Ok, lets hope we all stay healthy and see if Harrison is seeded at the Aus Open in 2014

  • Andrew Miller · January 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    It’s not a stretch to say Spadea had more “weapons” than Harrison did, even when the same age.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I’d like to reseach where Harrison and Spadea were at same age as far as ATP match wins and ranking.

  • Richard Pagliaro · January 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    The Red Baron will know. Vince may have been ranked higher and had more wins, but I really don’t know. I think Harrison’s upside is higher than Vince because I think he has more weapons, more athleticism, tries to pally more all court and the thing that killed me about Vince is he just didn’t seem interested in doing the physical training that it demands whereas Harrison knows that is important and does it. Then again, Vince’s 2-handed backhand was a big-time weapon for him.

  • Andrew Miller · January 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    The Spadea backhand was a “shot” and a half. In Dan’s book Agassi marveled at what a great shot it was. But one weapon alone does not a great player make these days – even if they are Ivo Karlovic or Isner, today’s game is all court.

    No question Harrison is a good player who’s only going to get better – the desire and discipline make good things better. But Harrison might be the Chang of his generation: he may be the guy to show other players – Jack Sock, Kudla, etc – what’s possible, and those fellas might leapfrog him. If Sock qualifies for Australian Open, it’s not a far fetch to suggest that, as tennis-prose noted, this Djokovic practice partner might find himself with a few wins.

    All that said…below are Spadea’s results in his first three years. Though comparing the past to the present is comparing apples and oranges, I think the tennis played at the time was pretty darn competetive – reason that solid players like Michael Joyce never made much of a mark on the tour, or that even now, even with an incredible work ethic, Somdev Devarrmen (NCAA two time champ, has good wins on tour) might find himself a top 100 player (as now at age 25) but may not break top 50.

    Tennis is an awful hard sport! Talent level is high, a lot of things have to be going right to climb to the top of the heap, or even threaten it. I think one thing that will make a difference is that the top 50 is older than it has been and players will retire. Somdev may not be top 50 now, but with the upcoming retirements and if he stays healthy, in two years he may be in main draws and not have to qualify.

    Spadea:

    1993 (year turned pro, (year end))
    age, 19
    Ranking: 285

    1994 (year end)
    age, 20
    Ranking: 80

    1995 (year end)
    age, 21
    Ranking: 79

    1996 (year end)
    age, 22
    Ranking: 54

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Tennis sure is a hard sport. I was in Sarasota watching some of the 2011 Fighting Illini Invitations with Texas Tech, Florida States, Illinois etc battling it out at Sarasota Bath & Racquet. Every one of the singles players out there looked incredible, like almost pro calibre. Yet a retired pro like Jimmy Arias could probably beat all of them. Arias was there today too hitting with his son. It’s just mindboggling how many excellent players are out there.

    Thanks for the research on Spadea’s early years Andrew. I think it’s a lot harder now for young players to make it at ATP level. DY, Dimitrov, Tomic are all struggling to climb the ranks. They are all pheneomenal players, it’s just so tough now to make it, the top 200 is so deep in talent. If Harrison can get to top 75 or 50 this year will be a very good sign for his future.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 16, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Top 75 or 50 for Harrison at the end of this year would be amazing. As Spadea’s stats show, the climb is usually not that meteoric. What Vince had in addition to a great backhand and very good court sense, was the ability, as pointed out in Break Point, to practice and play continually. He said something to the effect of: players who couldn’t take the losing and just did not like to hit ball after ball after ball, fell by the wayside. I think Rich is wrong that Spadea didn’t train hard. I think he did in spurts and the guy never drank alcohol or ate badly. He didn’t have to lose 30 pounds like Fish did. Spadea’s lifestyle was perfect for tennis. He came from a dysfunctional family, and that and maybe his conditioning and his inability to totally focus himeself led to only being a Top 20 player and not Top 10. As he got older, in his 30’s, I was impressed that he hung on and stayed pertinent for as long as he did. Then his single life, doomed him more than anything, I think.

    Harrison seems steadier, more willing to work, but he might not survive the losses as well and he’s still not even top 200 so it’s hard to project.

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2011 at 6:17 am

    One thing in Harrison’s corner: he can volley and finish points. If a player can’t finish points on tour it’s the kiss of death. Harrison can finish.

    To the kid’s credit, I watched some youtube (after reading Scoop and Dan’s comments) and saw that his ground strokes are pretty good – the backhand falls a little short but his forehand is right there and can pull players out of position, sets him up nicely to finish if he sneaks in to net.

    It could be because he played Stathovsky (spelling) that he had to employ that style, but the fact that he can execute and change it up is a big deal. There’s a reason Harrison is more successful now than his peer group (younger or older) – he plays a more mature game. If he develops his tennis game (not just his knowledge of the court, but also sense of the opponent and big points), he’s going to have some success.

    That’s a big deal in and of itself. A lot of pressure on this kid. But he wants it, so he’s going to get it!

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2011 at 6:19 am

    Dan is your sense that Spadea is going to stay in tennis? Or he is going to go into entertainment? He’s the perfect counter-cultural coach. I would love to see Spadea become the Annacone of his generation.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Vince ate poorly and needed to lose the 25-30 pounds but unlike Fish, failed to to so.

  • dan markowitz · January 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Only later in his career did he get fat. It’s amazing, I wrote the book with Vince in 2005, and the Vince I met in 2005 looked at least 10 pounds heavier than the pictures I saw of Vince earlier in his career. Then he was a relatively skinny guy, for a guy who’s got big legs. Either he stopped paying attention so much to his diet or with age, he didn’t train as hard. But it was no coincidence I think that he was No. 9 in 2004 and finished 2005 around 75.

    Vince would be a great coach, but I don’t think he wants to travel or subjugate himself to a player. He had too many coaches in his own career to respect coaches very much.

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I like Mardy Fish a lot as a player. I wonder what he’ll do in the big tournaments this year. Will he be like Verdasco, after a Davis Cup triumph, and come out roaring and stay relatively consistent and post the best results of his career (though a story that’s relatively untouched, Verdasco’s rise is pretty amazing – he used to be high on the talent ranking and low on the Spanish depth chart – I thought he was the underachiever of the ATP until the Davis Cup triumph in Mar de Plata, Argentina)

    I’d love to see Mardy Fish stake out the #2 spot in U.S. tennis or even dethrone Andy Roddick, though I don’t think that’s possible – I think Roddick remains the U.S. #1 and heart and soul this year. But I’d love for Fish to make this his career year.

    Easier said than done. But Fish at his best is clever and a performer, so I hope it happens. I think he is the legitimate U.S. #2 – I think he’s better than Querrey and Isner. But talk is cheap – as Agassi said, you can’t call in the results on tour!

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Spadea is a player I really enjoyed watching in tournaments. I watched him practice with Donald Young a few years ago – 2008 I think – at Delray Beach. What Dan and Scoop say is true: he enjoyed practice AND he let himself go. That said, he was absolutely driving Donald Young up the wall with his consistency and his ability to withstand the heat on center court – no matter how hot it got Vince kept his cool in the practice session.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Andrew; Fish’s highest ATP ranking is around 25 I believe. While Isner and Querrey are closer to 20. This means Isner and Querrey may be the better players than Fish.

  • Andrew Miller · January 17, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Fish: #17 !
    Querrey: 18
    Isner: 20

    new rankings just came out – Fish is #2 in the U.S. for the moment but Scoop you are right, this could change tournament by tournament.

  • Andrew Miller · January 17, 2011 at 12:11 am

    D. Young qualified for AO. Good stuff.

    Australian Open men’s qualifiers:
    Nicholas Mahut
    Grigor Dimitrov
    Gilles Muller
    Donald Young
    Frank Dancevic
    Milos Raonic
    Ryan Sweeting
    Flavio Cipolla
    Stephane Robert
    Jan Hernych
    Marco Crugnola
    Blaz Klavic
    Denis Gremelmayr
    Greja Zemlja
    Vincent Millot

  • Andrew Miller · January 17, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Scoop and Dan: I think you will appreciate Steve Tignor’s description today of D. Young’s performance in the qualifier round. Though it’s qualifiers, nonetheless it is good to hear and know that no one lies when they say Donald Young can play.

    “Most impressive of all was Donald Young, who blitzed through his opponent 6-3, 6-1. Normally equipped with a hair-trigger temper, he was at his ease today. He left me shaking my head in amazement half a dozen times. He made his forehand bend and knuckle and dance with topspin. He showed off a new service toss and motion that was giving him more pop. He hit a show-stopping (or it would have been show-stopping if anyone had been watching) down the line backhand where he ran forward without stopping, and in one smooth motion bent down and flipped the ball into the corner. It looked like a trick shot, but it was real.
    It was almost tragic to see how good this former prodigy turned 21-year-old cautionary tale can be. As improbable as it may seem, I still hope to see this Donald Young in a main-draw match at a Slam someday. He’ll get another chance this week. He survived bloody Sunday.”

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 17, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Very good news to hear from Steve Tignor that DY is looking sharp. That was an excellent article, I like to read about qualies and what goes on there as most of the tennis media does not really pay attention to that. But you can learn about some things about some of these future stars and see how they operate when not really under the spotlight and how they handle the pressures, how they deal with it. Last year Harrison was so impressive in his US Open qualie wins and how he jacked up the crowds, sure enough he catapulted from it and had a breakthrough of sorts in the main draw. Hopefully DY can catapult off his excellent qualie performances.

  • Andrew Miller · January 17, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Scoop it sounds like Harrison really loves the game and all that comes with it. Your description of him last year resembled Connors’ run to the semifinals – and in winning four rounds (3 QF plus 1st Rd), a good omen as far as my non-expert eyes can tell for his 1st US Open! If DY can make it through Cilic, it would be huge.

    I am watching Querrey play Kubot. I had no idea Kubot was so good. I just read the bio-file.

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