Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — As he was about to serve on triple-match point Sunday at the U.S. Open, Donald Young looked at his family and friends in his player’s box and stuck out his tongue Michael Jordan-style.
When his opponent, No. 24 Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, smacked a forehand wide, the overflow crowd surrounding the Grandstand court let loose a wild round of applause and Young pounded his chest and did a little dance at midcourt.
“It’s him at peace and he’s finally done what he needed to do,” his mother and coach, Illona Young, told SNY.tv as she left the stadium.
“I think he was just happy, I’m happy for him,” his father, Donald Young Sr., added.
After years of failing to live up to the tremendous expectations placed on him when he was the No. 1 junior in the world in 2005, Young, 22, is enjoying the breakthrough of his career.
For the second straight match, the left-hander knocked off a seeded player and now moves into the fourth round where he will face No. 4 Andy Murray, who routed No. 25 Feliciano Lopez in straight sets Sunday night. Young beat Murray at Indian Wells earlier this year for his first win over a Top 10 player.
Asked if a potential matchup against Murray would be the biggest match of his life, Young said, “As far as slam-wise it would be.”
Young, ranked 84th in the world, advanced to play Chela by outlasting No. 14 Stan Wawrkina in five sets for his first-ever five-set victory.
“It’s better than he won the other day because this solidifies what he did,” his father said of this latest victory.
Young was one of five American men still remaining at the start of play Sunday. No. 28 John Isner eliminated Alex Bogomolov Jr., 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, later Sunday, while Mardy Fish, the top-ranked American, plays Monday.
No. 21 Andy Roddick also advanced to the fourth round courtesy of a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over Julien Benneteau. After his win, Roddick, the 2003 Open champ, was asked what he sees in Young’s play now that’s different from a year or more ago.
” It just seems like there’s a sense of belief,” Roddick said. “He’s not focusing on what’s going wrong, which is a big thing. I’ve seen him a couple times. I’m just really happy for him. I mean, he’s a shy kid. He’s a nice kid.
“I feel like he’s gotten a little bit of a bum rap because he does have a temper and has been reactionary with his words at times. But I think he is a sweet, sweet kid. He’s shy. I think he might be coming out of that shell a little bit. I hope he is.”
Young said he reached his low point when he lost in Challenger matches. He fell in several first-round Challenger matches in 2009.
“I was losing to guys 300 in the world,” he said. “Actually this year I lost to some players 300.
He said he ultimately didn’t quit because his team, including his parents and family members, gave him the support to keep going.
“You just don’t quit work if you’re a smart person and sit around if you want to eat and have a lifestyle you enjoy,” he said. “But, like I say, I love tennis. It wasn’t that I didn’t love tennis, I just hated losing. That was pretty much the issue for me.”
Still, there were other low points, too.
When he wasn’t given a wildcard into the French Open this year, he took to Twitter with a series of profane tweets for which he later apologized and which required Patrick McEnroe, head of the USTA development program, to comment. SI.com called it “career suicide” at the time.
“Yeah, it’s not the way it should have been done,” Young said. “But things are smooth now. We’re all okay and great. So hopefully we can move forward.”
Young moved forward this year by going to Los Angeles to train with guys like Fish, Sam Querrey and 14-time major champ Pete Sampras.
“I wanted to do something different,” he said. “All the off-seasons I’ve spent a week or two training and then at home just kind of having fun. I could have trained harder at home, but I didn’t.
“I was actually there by myself, so to do that was really different, to be by myself every day to get up and eat breakfast at the same time and go work out. It was great.”
Roddick says there is also a “snowball” effect with the young American players, Young, Isner, Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison and others, where they motivate one another to get better.
“I think there’s a healthy jealousy going on right now, which is good,” Roddick said. “It’s only good to help. If Donald Young sees Ryan Harrison play well in the summer, he’s going to not want to fall behind. I think that’s what you saw with that golden generation is that they were able to push each other.
“It’s a great thing to see. You just feel there’s a little bit of momentum. There is a bit of a snowball effect at times if it goes the right way. Seems like there’s some of that right now.”
How far Young can ride that snowball remains to be seen.
“It’s up to him, it’s up to him,” his father told SNY.tv. “But this is great.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.