Young emerges as real Tour threat
The scores suggested humiliation, a beat-down, the kind of setback that can haunt a player for weeks. I doubt if Donald Young felt that way as he left Thailand a 6-2, 6-0 loser to Andy Murray on Sunday but now an unquestioned threat on the ATP Tour.
Nobody ever pegged Young as a future No. 1 in the world, not since his days as a 16-year-old prodigy. He doesn't have the size, power or consistency to crack the so-called Big Four of world tennis. Then again, as recently as August, a lot of critics (including this columnist) felt he had no future at all. It's wise not to dwell on that final against Murray, but rather Young's thrilling 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) semifinal victory over Gael Monfils. That's an indication of how far the clever left-hander has come.
Young staged a masterful, forthright performance against the Tour's best athlete, coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third set and 5-3 in the tiebreaker. It has been remarkable to witness Young's transformation from a surly, wildly erratic also-ran to a spirited, confident player with the style and panache of a natural entertainer. He's ranked a career-high No. 43 in the world now, so he's long past having to qualify for the majors. And the 22-year-old American is certainly not among those who feel the Tour schedule should be curtailed. This is a man who could use all the tournament experience he can find.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of Young's development has been his willingness to abandon his career path -- stubbornly trusting only his parents as coaches -- and accept USTA instruction. Mr. and Mrs. Young remain vital to his peace of mind, and he constantly looks in their direction during crucial stages of a match. But he's currently being coached by the USTA's Michael Sell, with spectacular results.
Now, if he could just change that look.
During the U.S. Open, when Young staged his career breakthrough, John McEnroe said what a lot of us have been thinking: "Straighten the cap out. That's the last stop." Actually, I'd remove the baseball cap altogether, as I've encouraged Andy Roddick to do for a while. But wearing it sideways suggests the look of a rebel, someone desperate for attention. Worse yet, he folds it into an exaggerated "U," like some clueless Little Leaguer. You're a grown man now, Donald, and it's time to look the part.
It was nice to see some good news -- anything at all -- regarding Anna Chakvetadze. Perhaps it won't amount to much: She has been named as a candidate for the Right Cause party in her native Russia, where there is rampant skepticism about the party's political influence. But she says she wants to try "something new," with the idea of promoting women's rights and youth sports, and that's a heartwarming development for anyone familiar with her story.
Chakvetadze was the 20-year-old sensation of the 2007 season, rising to No. 5 in the world and blasting her way to the semifinals of the U.S. Open. She took a crushing defeat there, playing through tears during a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova, and that was only the beginning of a shocking downfall.
In December of that year, six invaders burst into her Moscow home, gagged her and beat her father, Djambuli, while escaping with some $300,000 in cash and jewelry. Although she was unharmed, Chakvetadze spoke of being haunted by the incident. She managed to win a tournament in France some two months later -- giving her a remarkable 7-0 record in Tour finals -- but it wasn't long before her performances and ranking began to tumble.
She finished the 2009 season at No. 70, rising to a still-nondescript 56 by the end of 2010. She opened the 2011 season with three early-round losses, never feeling quite right on court, and then was forced to pull out of three straight tournaments due to spells of dizziness. It was determined that she had an inner-ear infection, and she reported feeling better, but she got a terrible draw at Wimbledon (Maria Sharapova in the first round) and hasn't played since, pulling out of six tournaments -- including the U.S. Open -- for the same reason: "dizziness," according to the WTA website.
Her tennis career may be in doubt, but at 24, she appears to be seeing a bigger picture. May all of that darkness give way to sunshine.
• Everyone in the sport took notice when Jelena Dokic announced a reconciliation with her father, Damir, quite possibly the most reviled and disruptive parent in tennis history. "I believe he has changed greatly," she said, and if that's the case, wonderful. Based on the man's history, though, no one is going to believe this story unless he's sober -- morning, noon and night -- for the rest of his days. The WTA isn't about to change its policy (banning his presence at any tournament), and that's the smart move until further notice. As Darren Cahill put it so well, "This still feels awkward."
• Nice to see that Melanie Oudin finally split with her longtime coach, Brian de Villiers, who presided over her hopelessly desultory performances over the past two years. Not to denigrate the man's tennis acumen, but this move should have happened after the 2009 U.S. Open, when
• I think we've all given up trying to offer specific details on shortening the Tour. Every suggestion confronts a hard dose of reality, not the least of which is a majority view among players (not the Big Four, but those who need the money and rankings points) supporting an extensive calendar. But there was a hidden message in Sam Querrey's words the other day, when he discussed his return from injuries: "Now I'm hungrier than ever. When you don't play a tournament or practice for a while, it lets you know how much you miss the sport, how much you love it." Therein lies the essential argument: You can't miss something when it won't go away.
• Wimbledon has cheerfully announced its plan to put a roof on Court 1, a process bound to be seamless and efficient (no specific time frame has been announced). That will give the All England Club two world-class courts in the event of disruptive weather, allowing the tournament to hum along without a hitch. Here in backwoods country, we're stumbling along on landfill, alarmed at those bubbles of water emerging through cement.
• What's up with Li Na? She dispatched her husband's coaching for Michael Mortenson, then brought the husband back on board. At home in Beijing, playing her first match in China since winning the French Open, she took a first-round loss to Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu. And before that tournament began, as she tried to explain her disappointing performances at the French Open and Wimbledon, she told reporters, "All the active women tennis players have the same ups and downs, because women cannot have the same mentality of men, who expect to win every competition. We are very easy to be satisfied after winning a championship, and we like to leave some time for self-adjustment." Let's give her the benefit of the doubt, in the event her words were lost in translation. If not, let's set up a meeting with Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.