They Said What? Young Growth
“One hundred percent last year, or a couple years ago, I would've thrown it in. It would've been three sets to love, whatever the score was, and 6‑1, 6‑2. I decided to fight, and I felt I was better than that.” —Donald Young, on his comeback in a 2-6, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 4-6 loss to No. 41 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in their third round match at Roland Garros today.
Paris—Always remember that if it seems like you’ve read the Donald Young story before, and perhaps more than once, it isn’t the fault of the 24-year Atlantan. He’s been maturing, and growing stronger, tougher, and more experienced. Question what you will, but don’t question his fidelity to the game.
Young, ranked No. 79 but heading higher thanks to this tournament, has been through numerous ups and downs since he stunned the entire tennis community with his precocious talent and mind-blowing junior record. To some degree, he’s been punished for being so good, so young. The expectations were outsized and, we’ve seen, unrealistic: Young embarked on his pro career with skills, physical traits, and perhaps even work habits sorely in need of development and fine-tuning.
Young is just six-feet tall, and for a long time he was slight of build (you can mark the years by tabulating all those “whatever happened to Donald Young” stories). He’s more muscular now, and so is his game, as he showed today.
The match began in strong sunlight and ended, three hours and 47 minutes later, with the long shadows of the umpire’s chair and upper deck flagpoles falling across a court that had turned from gold to rust, much like the skills that had earned Garcia-Lopez a two sets to none lead.
But Young’s game was arcing upward at the same time, and when Garcia-Lopez’s form declined he took full advantage. By the time he’d salted away the fourth set, Young was hitting stone-cold winners left and right.
The problem for Young in the fifth was that Garcia-Lopez began to find his second — or was it third? fourth? — wind, and once again he was playing like the man who knocked off Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka in the battle of the booming backhands. Young survived a pair of break points in the second game, both thanks to winning placements. By then, he’d won the hearts of the Parisian crowd with his game and sustained comeback. “Dough-Nald,” “Dough-Nald” they chanted.
“I did hear my name quite a bit,” he admitted later, almost bashfully. “It was great, especially in France. I've never been in that position. I guess they were appreciating the effort or play or whatever, but it felt good.”
We didn’t see another break point until the ninth game, when Young put himself one swing of the stick away from serving for the match. He even got a good look at a second serve then. But Garcia-Lopez uncorked a prodigious forehand crosscourt winner in the ensuing, and served out that game to lead 5-4.
Alas, the end was anti-climactic. Young battled back from a love-30 deficit to 30-all with a pair of placements. But Garcia-Lopez had saved his best for last. He cracked an untouchable inside-out forehand to arrive at match point, after which Young buckled under the pressure of match point and netted a rally forehand to end it.
“It's not really how I wanted it to end,” Young said. “Being down two sets to love you feel like you might be a little bit out of it, but I competed hard. I had a chance to break and serve for it. Yeah, definitely not the best feeling, but I can take some positives away as well.”
Young has filled out some recently, and he appears to be hitting a slightly heavier ball. He knows he has more work to do. “Hopefully I grow some more inches. But I doubt that's going to happen," he said. "I can definitely always get stronger. That's been something I've worked on with my trainer at home and in L.A. It's not 100 percent where I want it to be, but it's a step in the right direction. I want to keep improving in that way.”
It’s become a lonely vigil, waiting for Young to mature fully, but perhaps he’s just developing at a different rate and in different ways than most.