At the end of this year’s Citi Open, I began drafting a blogpost on how far Donald Young had fallen in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings. But I procrastinated…and now I’m glad I did.
As I thought about it, I realized that was too easy a story and maybe a cheap shot. After watching him play his way into this year’s U.S. Open now underway, I was convinced there was a better story to tell about this one-time tennis prodigy.
It is a story of perseverance. A story of self-belief. But more than anything it is the story of how a player’s love for the game propels him through the ups and downs of what has turned out to be a lackluster career for a black tennis pro who showed so much promise more than a decade ago.
Donald Young is making his 14th consecutive appearance in the main draw of the grandest of Grand Slams. He will earn $54,000 just for showing up for his first match. He enters ranked No. 246, his lowest ranking since July 2007 when he was at No. 290.
This comes after a year in which he posted his best record as a pro, with 24 singles wins and a runner-up check and trophy in doubles at the 2017 French Open, his first-ever Grand Slam final. Donald notched his 100th career victory and ended the year ranked No. 61, his fourth consecutive year-end finish inside the Top 100.
While I knew Donald had been struggling when the Citi Open began in late July, I did not know just how far he had fallen until I did some research after being stunned to see him playing matches to qualify for the main draw of this 500-level tournament in the nation’s capital.Embed from Getty Images
Donald was 2-11 in singles before the tournament began and had plummeted to No. 234 in the rankings.
When I walked into the stadium, Donald was serving for the match in the first qualifier round against another black player, Danny Thomas, ranked No. 790. Donald lost his service game and wound up having to go three sets to win the match.
In the main draw, Donald had his best win of the season, a three-set victory over Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam winner and former No. 2 ranked player who is coming back from an injury layoff. Donald suffered a bout of back spasms in the next round and lost in straight sets to Kei Nishikori, who also has been slowed by injuries.
During a press conference after his win against Wawrinka, Donald was upbeat about having to play the qualifier rounds to make it into the main draw.
“I needed the qualies one hundred percent,” he said. “I needed to get wins, wins anywhere, and I was happy to get them here.”
In the second round of the qualifiers for the U.S. Open, Donald showed true grit. He bounced back from an 0-6 first-set thumping to win the match and keep alive his main draw streak at his favorite tournament.
In a post-match interview on Tennis Channel, Donald put his career in perspective. He acknowledged he has fallen short of the goals he set for himself at 15 when he first turned pro – winning the U.S. Open was one of them – but added he is in a good state of mind at 29.
“I’m happy and feeling good,” he said. “And I’m healthy. In my mind, I’m still 18.”
As for his feelings on his 2018 season, Donald was quite blunt: “It point blank sucks for me,” he said laughing.
But it’s not like he hasn’t faced adversity before. Remember his 17-match losing streak in 2012?
This year, Donald said he has been hobbled by one injury after another — a sore wrist here, an aching knee there. He’s had to be treated on court for back problems. And there was the two-week layoff because of a wasp sting on his foot.
Of late, though, Donald said he has been feeling the best he has all year and he’s starting to see improvement in his game. He has a new set of goals as he looks toward 2019.
“I want to get back inside the top 100,” he said. “I want to be competing later in tournaments, and I want to win my first tournament.”
Meanwhile, he hopes to pick up a few fans of the Donald Young Uncle Jack watch he sported during the U.S. Open qualifiers. Only 100 of the watches with a red band and black dial bearing his name will be sold.
So while time may no longer be on Donald’s side as a professional tennis player, it will be on his wrist — at least for the time being.