Donald Young could see the danger zone lurking as clearly as the blue back wall. After the 50th-ranked American poked a backhand long in the second game of the decisive set against Viktor Troicki, he implored himself to "stay calm" as he paced behind the baseline. A jittery Young tried to play the role of both competitor and counselor, but mismanaged both of those efforts as he bit the blue dust in Madrid.
In the first meeting between two talented players adept at creating on-court complications, Troicki managed both his nerve and serve more effectively in reeling off the final four games to register a 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory. It was Troicki's first career win in four Madrid appearances, and just his second clay-court win of the season.
Three straight service breaks opened the match before Troicki issued a love hold for 3-1. Young, who sometimes steps up to serve with barely a ball bounce or pre-point plotting, rushed through another service game as Trocki broke at 30. The Serb then stretched his lead to 5-1 with a fine forehand drop-shot winner. The left-handed American, who won just 10 of 28 points on serve in the opening set, sliced a smash wide to surrender serve for the fourth straight time and end a shoddy set in which he committed 10 more unforced errors than the Belgrade baseliner (16 to 10).
Still, when you see the 22-year-old Young snap off a forehand return winner with the ease of a man brushing a stray piece of lint, or surging forward to angle off an exquisite running angled backhand volley, it's a reminder of the prescient court sense, soft hands, and creativity that once made him the top junior in the world. Young broke to open the second set, saved four break points and held for 4-2 with a smash, then banged a backhand winner cross-court to seal the set in 53 minutes.
The 30th-ranked Troicki dug out of a 0-30 hole with eight straight points to take a 2-0 lead in the decider. Young broke for 1-2 and won a 28-shot rally to save break point in the ensuing game, but that proved to be his last stand. Troicki earned another break point pulling the string on another forehand drop-shot winner, and broke for 3-1 on a Young double fualt. Troicki won 13 of the final 17 points to to close it out. Playing with more patience, Troicki hit one more winner (24 to 23) and less than half as many errors (25 to 53) as Young.
Young's growing pains persist, in part because he sweats the small stuff, which can degenerate into morose moods on court. After leaping from No. 128 to a year-end best No. 39 in 2011 (after reaching the fourth round of the U.S. Open and his first career ATP final), Young continues to spin his wheels in 2012, as his losing skid is now at seven.
Troicki, who is 7-1 when winning the opening set this season, will face either Estoril finalist Richard Gasquet or Thomaz Bellucci next.