Saturday, October 1, 2011

What is Donald doing now that he wasn’t before?

Well he’s winning matches for a start. There was a time when Donald Young was known best for being a loser – despite the promise shown by winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon boys’ championships. There was a time when Donald was known for accepting an unfair share of wild cards – even though he couldn’t win to save his life. There was a time when he and his parents were seen as tennis embarrassments. The NY Times once ran an article titled “Prodigy’s End”, a grim reminder of the slew of expectations that surrounded Donald and how little he lived up to them.

I am so happy that it finally seems as if that time is no more. I am especially thrilled that Young has been enjoying a solid 2011. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly hailing him as the next best thing. I’m just proud of him that he has managed to come out from under his previous infamy. But my real interest is in figuring out what exactly it is that he is doing now that he did not used to do before. What is the nature of his improvement?

For a start, I think that Donald has finally figured out how to exploit the advantages inherent in being a lefty tennis player. For this, Nadal has no doubt been a terrific role model. In my opinion, there has never, before Nadal, been a player who figured out how to exploit the advantages inherent in being a lefty player. Has Donald been observing and studying? I personally think so.

Of course being a lefty is not advantage enough. The field of tennis is filled with lefties who never amounted to much. (Alex Bogdanovic anyone?) Donald has improved because he has finally figured out how to exploit the advantages of being left-handed. Did you see those spicy lefty serves into the Monfils’ ad side during their semi-final match in Thailand? Did you see the way Young dominated many of the rallies against the talented Igor Andreev, by using his lefty crosscourt forehand? Yes, I think that it is fair to say that Donald Young has grown literally and figuratively into his game.

Second, I think that he has also become a markedly more aggressive player. There was a time when Donald seemed content to plant himself at the net, his cap ass-backwards or sideways, ears diamond-pierced – while he engaged in long-assed rallies that went nowhere. Now he moves into net aggressively. It was clear that he caught Monfils by surprise several times. His backhand volleys were confident and well-placed. Even when he messed up the shot, it was clear what his strategy was intended to be.

Third, Donald Young has become a more self-confident player. He’s lost the false bravado that characterized his early forays into tennis. Now his self-confidence seems more real. I love it when he messes up and starts screaming at himself. It’s a reminder to himself that he knows what to do and had better set about doing it. And I love that once the yelling is over, he moves on, letting go of any negative energy and waiting positively, expectantly for the next shot.

Finally, I am especially glad that Donald seems to have resolved his issues with the USTA. Anyone reading this blog regularly knows that I am not a fan of the USTA, particularly when it comes to its treatment of players whose skin color is a darker shade of pale. I would be the first to accuse the USTA of playing favorites and of being more supportive of blonde women with a single thick braid running down their backs. That is my opinion and I stand by it.

And yet I disagreed thoroughly with Donald’s twitter outburst earlier this year when he elected to publicly criticize USTA for not giving him a wild card to the French Open. I wanted to slap him and remind him that he has received more wild cards than most throughout his career. I was glad when he not only apologized but also elected to delete his twitter account. (I am so happy that I was not in my teens when twitter was invented. I too may frequently have made an ass of myself).

As a result of his repairing the rift with USTA, Donald has been included in the fold. He attended Davis Cup as a practice partner. He has a new coaching arrangement with USTA’s Mike Sell and their partnership has clearly been yielding results. Donald has made it to his first ATP finals. Even if Andy Murray spanks his butt tomorrow (how amazing is it that their head-to-head this year is 1:1?), Young still has every reason to be justifiably proud.

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