During a six month stretch this season, Young found himself mired in a 17-match losing streak and rapidly approaching the record 23 consecutive losses held by Vince Spadea.
Once the slump began, Young was just globe-hopping from one event to the next where he would practice, lace up his tennis shoes, put on his game face, lose first round and get on a plane to the next tournament where the pattern would repeat.
With each successive loss, the slump gathered momentum until it became a festering wound of demoralization. Only a win could slow the bleeding.
That elusive skid-ending score finally occurred at the Winston-Salem Open where Young rallied from a first set loss to defeat Argentine, Leonardo Mayer 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Many, including me, felt an intense sense of relief. But none could have felt more unburdened than Young himself. The proverbial albatross had dropped from his neck.
Young’s respite was brief as he promptly lost his second round match to Feleciano Lopez, 2-6, 3-6.
But he won a match, right? That was different. That was good. Maybe now the negative flow would change. Right? Wrong!
As though things hadn’t been tough enough, after having won his first match in six months, the tennis gods saw fit to assign Donald the unenviable task of facing number one seed, the great Roger Federer, in the first round of the final slam of the year, the US Open.
Can’t a guy catch a break!
Tennis gods have a warped sense of humor. Or maybe it’s just that “life ain’t fair.” Probably a little of both factors conspired to deal Young yet another vicious body blow. Somebody had to play Roger. Stands to reason it would be the guy who’d been cannon fodder for everybody else for much of the season.
I’m reasonably certain that’s probably how Young viewed it. It’s easy to conjure up an image of him staring at the draw, shaking violently while screaming, “whyyyy!!!!!…128 men Lord, 128…why me!”
It was clear from the outset of the match that Donald Young would have neither a productive nor a pleasant day. Each time something went wrong, which was like every 60 seconds or so, poor Young grew angrier and angrier. He berated himself after each of his failed shots. He further bludgeoned himself after almost every ace that Federer served, after each scorching winner that passed him, after shots that were just “too good.”
I spoke to Young’s image on my TV screen. “Donald, try to relax man. Fed does this stuff to everybody. Just ask Rafa, Novak, and Murray or anybody that’s played him. Hell, he even did this s**t to Pete and Andre. You’re not being persecuted.”
Given the nature of his year, even if he could have heard me, I wouldn’t really have expected him to believe any of my prattle.
Young continually screamed at his box a la the old Andy Murray. At a particularly high point of frustration, he appeared to hit a ball towards the box occupied by his mother and new coach, Roger Smith.
I’m telling you, “the lad was mad.”
I understand fully, at least as fully as possible without actually being in Young’s head, how miserable he is feeling. He’s overwrought with disappointment, doubt, frustration and anger at the career situation in which he now finds himself. He’s totally devoid of confidence and can’t conceivably be experiencing any joy from the sport he loves.
It’s an ugly, awful, painful place for a gifted 23 year-old professional tennis player to be. He desperately needs to extricate himself from the negative dynamic. Of course, “it’s easier said than done” but it can be done.
Donald Young needs some regression therapy. He needs to find a way to re-connect with the Donald Young of his junior years. That Young was a confident, dominant force. Only a handful of his contemporaries were able to occasionally deal with him. He had that kind of presence.
Just as juniors must learn technique, strokes, strategies etc, so too must they learn how to win. Donald Young the junior learned all his lessons well. The guy really knew how to win.
He no longer knows how to win. Instead, he now knows how to lose.
On several occasions this season, I watched Young inexplicably lose matches that he should have won. He even lost at times when the other guy had pretty much thrown in the towel. He just couldn’t close the deal. It was as though he found ways to lose.
Winning begets winning. Losing does the same.
Young is still young. He’s only 23. There’s still time to right the listing ship before it completely sinks. He needs help to do it. Some of the help must come from a strong external support network of family, coaches, friends and fans. The rest must come from within Donald Young.
In all likelihood, after having reached a career high ranking of 38, Young will drop out of the top 100 by seasons’ end if he hasn’t already done so. If that’s the case, it’s a good time to begin a rebuilding effort.
A return to the challenger level could work wonders for him. He could possibly beat up on some guys on that circuit and find himself again, find the confidence he once had, the belief that he belongs.
Donald Young does belong but he must prove it, not so much to the world, but definitely to himself.