These days all the talk is around guys like Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Stefan Kozlov and Reilly Opelka — 19 year olds all — when it comes to the future of American tennis. It’s a veritable #NextGenATP Rat Pack, with fans of all things red, white and blue banking on at least one or two of them to break through to the top of the sport.
Donald Young sure could have used a group like that — someone with whom to share the spotlight. But that’s what happens when you’re an ahead-of-your-years phenom who rises to the top of the ITF charts and earns your first ATP World Tour ranking points only 10 days after your 15th birthday, who inks deals with Nike, Head and sports management giant IMG before you can even qualify for a driver’s license.
“I wish I had that when I was coming up,” said Young, today ranked No. 60 in the world and into the Round of 16 of the BNP Paribas Open. “It was kind of focused on me.”
This week, Young has already posted impressive wins over compatriot and No. 23 seed Sam Querrey (who was coming off the Acapulco title) and No. 14 Lucas Pouille of France.
“It's what you work hard and compete for,” said Young, who’s into the fourth round for only the second time in 34 Masters 1000 appearances. “It's my job. I was talking to a friend and we were talking about what else better do I have to do right now than to get better at tennis and play and enjoy it. It's not going to be here forever, so I'm going to try to get the most out of it.”
The last time Young was playing with such consistency (he’s 10-4 on the year) was in 2011, when he posted a career-best year-end ranking of No. 39.
“Now I'm just winning some tough matches,” he said. “I've won three or four matches where the other guys won more total points than me in the matches. So I'm just happy I'm playing the bigger points well. I'm happy to get the ‘W.’ That's what matters at the end of the day — and going to the next round and feeling good about yourself and the progression you're making.”
It’s jarring to think that, at 27, Young is already a tour veteran of 12 years. He’s taken his punches along the way, as both fans and media grew impatient for a Top-10 breakthrough that never came. But the Atlantan seems to be at peace now, as if he’s come to terms with all that was expected of him.
“I had no choice,” said Young, who’ll next face former junior foe Kei Nishikori of Japan. “You can either be bitter, go away, get a regular job — which isn’t bad — but I love tennis. I love playing. If I’m off the court for two, three days, I miss it. What else is better to do? I just don’t want to waste my God-given ability. You just don’t quit your job if you have a couple of bad days or a bad year. I’m happy.”