In 2015, Donald Young finished the year with 22 match wins, the most he’s ever had in a season.
2017 has proven to be a different story, as he already recorded victory No. 20 in the first round of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. And he came extremely close to picking up No. 21, too.
While his stay may have been brief at the tournament, it was nonetheless impressive. In a performance that perhaps would have looked unfamiliar to the tennis world a few years ago, the American displayed the confidence and poise of a seasoned veteran in his come-from-behind victory over countryman Tim Smyzcek. Then, he pushed Kei Nishikori, a perennial member of the Top 10, to the brink before falling in a third-set tiebreak.
It’s a far cry from 2012, when Young lost 17 matches in a row and was barely a year removed from making the round of 16 at the U.S. Open.
Young’s career has long had its peaks and valleys, but he appears to have found that marker that all professionals strive for: consistency.
Earlier in the year, Young posted a 14-5 record over five tournaments. That included reaching back-to-back semifinals in Memphis and Delray Beach, where he was a past finalist. Over the course of those two weeks, he played David to some of the tour’s Goliaths, recording wins over John Isner, Reilly Opelka and Ivo Karlovic. In both events, it was the eventual champion that ended his run: fellow Americans Ryan Harrison in Memphis and Jack Sock in Florida.
At the first two Masters 1000 events of the year, Young posted consecutive round of 16 finishes. In Indian Wells, he defeated Sam Querrey and Lucas Pouille before falling to Nishikori in a match that bore little resemblance to their Washington encounter. Young defeated Pouille—a solid member of the Top 20—again a couple of weeks later in Miami.
Transitioning to the clay was tricky for Young, as he failed to pick up a singles win. However, in doubles, he recorded his most significant result as a pro.
Partnering with doubles specialist Santiago Gonzalez, the unseeded duo reached the final in Roland Garros. With that result, Young became only the fourth African-American male in the history of the sport to make a Grand Slam final, following Arthur Ashe, MaliVai Washington and Bryan Shelton.
The hype machine that surrounds any American prospect would have had people believe that more Slam finals before then was a near certainty for Young. After all, he won two Grand Slam singles titles as a junior and was the youngest year-end world No. 1, reaching the junior pinnacle just a few months past his 16th birthday in 2005.
Young had turned professional the year before, which many considered to be too soon. A shot-maker who could baffle his opponents in the juniors, Young found most matchups to be a struggle as a professional early on. And it was only a matter of time before the wild cards and lavish sponsorships started to dry up. Still, though, he managed to creep his way up the rankings and make for some memorable moments. In 2011, he defeated Andy Murray in Indian Wells and had that fourth-round showing at the U.S. Open, where he beat Stan Wawrinka in a fifth-set tiebreak in the second round.
Early the next year, Young reached his career-high in the rankings at No. 38. But shortly afterward, the losing set in. But perseverance has been a strong suit for the American, and he steadily turned things around on the Challenger circuit the next few years, sprinkling in some main-draw wins. By 2015, Young reached his second career singles final, losing in Delray Beach to Karlovic.
2016 saw more steady play from Young, particularly in the second half of the season, which has set the stage for his 2017 breakthrough.
Coached by his parents for the bulk of his career, Young now has Craig Kardon—a longtime presence on both the men's and women’s tours—in his corner as well.
And with more players peaking in their later years, Young looks to be on track to take even bigger steps on the tour. Success wasn’t immediate as a teenager, but as a 28-year-old veteran now, the American has reached the level of consistency that provides a solid foundation to build upon.
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