There are a number of ways for athletes to commit career suicide. Relentlessly bad play seems to work, along with a drunken car crash or a descent into drug-infested hell. Every so often, mere words do the trick. And if you're speaking from the outer edges of relevance at the time, well, you're Donald Young.
A full seven years into a pro career that began at the age of 14, Young has exactly one memorable career result: a stunning victory over Andy Murray at the recent Indian Wells tournament. Nobody considered it any kind of career breakthrough; Murray was deep into a personal malaise, and it's a bit too late for Young to have designs on major titles. It was a fluke, an aberration, something that wouldn't happen again.
Young and his family, it seems, felt it was deserving of special treatment. They chose the stance of defiance, got denied, and when Young was defeated where it counts -- on the court, against others with the same goal -- he temporarily lost his mind.
If you check the
Some background: Young, coming off a victory at the Tallahassee challenger event (tennis' equivalent of the minor leagues), felt he had earned an automatic wild card into the upcoming French Open, and he relayed that demand through his father and part-time coach, Donald Sr. Nice enough thought, I guess, except that the USTA had already set up a six-man playoff to determine that honor, with Young included.
The idea, as McEnroe clearly stated, is to "prove yourself on the court." As he said in Monday's conference call, "What's wrong with actually going to the event and earning it through the qualifying? John Isner did that a couple of years ago, and he was ranked like 70 in the world (Young is 95th). Ryan Harrison wants a French wild-card spot this year, and he has decided to go and play the qualifying. Young wasn't ranked high enough to qualify on his own when the cutoff came out. Those are the ATP rules."
Young ruefully trudged off to the six-man playoff in Boca Raton, Fla., where he was defeated in the best-of-five-set final by 23-year-old Wisconsin native Thomas Smyczek, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. A resounding victory, to be sure. Couldn't be more clear-cut. But Young reportedly filled the air with expletives as he left the court, and then he released his full fury on Twitter.
(If I can interrupt here for a moment, this is why certain people shouldn't open Twitter accounts. It's a death trap for the irrational, a good place to make a stupid, ill-conceived remark and
There are much larger issues at play. Some have questioned the competence of the USTA's development program and its failure to (a) match the European countries in producing elite players and (b) properly tap potential talent in America's inner cities. Young's parents have been particularly vocal in criticizing the program on a number of counts. Then again, Young irritated the U.S. hierarchy by insisting upon using his parents as coaches, only recently turning to USTA mentors (and seeing markedly positive results). It's a heated, long-standing quarrel between the two parties, and it seems likely that both are at fault.
What's abundantly clear, though, is that Young made a huge mistake here. This is a guy with a 16-48 lifetime record on tour, including 2-11 in majors and 4-40 after losing the first set. Whether he has been properly coached or not, he was a highly touted prodigy who turned into a bust. He has no appealing on-court qualities, nothing suggesting the type of rangy, powerful athlete being developed in countries all over the world. We have such athletes in America, but they sure as hell aren't playing tennis, and Donald Young is definitely not among them.
It wouldn't be right for Young and his parents to just go quietly if they felt they were being wronged at the highest level. But "F--- USTA!" won't get you very far in a very white, buttoned-down world, nor will "Their full of s---!", even if you know how to spell. Good luck in your next career, Donald. This one went right down the dumpster.
* * * * *
One of my tennis-loving friends considers himself a connoisseur of style and glamour on the women's tour, and as he watched Julia Goerges dispatch No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the Stuttgart final, he invoked a phrase from some long-ago era: "Va-va-VOOM!"
It's too bad she doesn't pronounce her name "Gorgeous," because many would find it fitting. Do these things matter? Oh, you bet they do. The WTA executives couldn't be more thrilled to see a talented player with such eye-catching physical assets.
Eventually, as it must be with the Ivanovics and Sabatinis and Sharapovas, it will be about the tennis. Recent months have seen the arrival of groundstroke-blasting players making a huge splash, from Petra Kvitova to Li Na to Andrea Petkovic, and they invariably learn that such feats are difficult to repeat. The 5-foot-11 Goerges has such a huge, free-swinging game, it's safe to assume she won't always be relentlessly drilling the lines as she did against Wozniacki.
Still, this 7-6, 6-3 win was something to behold. It showed with great clarity that Wozniacki's forehand is particularly vulnerable on clay, there to be crushed by opportunistic players given time to set up. Goerges' forehand was immeasurably superior, to the point where a simple combination -- cross-court bullet driving Wozniacki into the corner, then a winner down the line -- proved to be a precious ally.
It's so refreshing to see a female player with an athletic, whip-like motion on her serve, and Goerges' second serve is a huge weapon, as well. She can come to the net when necessary, winning 15 of the 22 points in that area during the final. Let's face it, she's the latest practitioner of "Big Babe tennis," as Mary Carillo so aptly describes it. And if Wozniacki didn't get the message before, she surely does now: Beware of such players at the upcoming French Open. On clay, Wozniacki's magical defensive powers may not be enough.
Like most fans, I first became aware of Goerges, 22, when she engaged Sharapova in a memorable Australian Open third-rounder before going down, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. If you're looking for young Americans on the rise, I'd go watch the sensational female athletes in skiing, volleyball, surfing and basketball. Tennis belongs to the Europeans, and it seems they never stop coming.
* * * * *
When it comes to worldwide tennis on the men's side, Spain is the unquestioned leader. This is a country with four players in the top 15: Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco. There's an intriguing quarterfinal coming up against the U.S. in July, and it happens to be in Austin, Texas, where one of America's all-time Davis Cup heroes, Andy Roddick, maintains residence.
For an event so bereft of attention, it sounds like the ideal setup: Underdog country with some intriguing storylines. The Davis Cup, after all, is all about severe home-court advantages, complete with chants, borderline rioting and the hurling of fruit. So what do we get from Spain? A preposterous complaint -- properly denied by Davis Cup authorities -- that the planned hardcourt surface (Indoor Hard Premiere) "fraudulently infringes" Davis Cup rules. We even got a manufactured quote from Nadal -- surely not coming from the man himself -- that the setup will be unfair.
I was expecting more from the Spaniards. Something along the lines of, "This is our event. We feel we can win it anywhere. Go ahead, make mischief with your surface. We laugh at such trivial matters."
* * * * *
Interesting that Wozniacki is considering hiring Martina Navratilova as a consultant, for it seems like the ideal setup for both parties. Martina has long lamented the lack of variety among today's top players, and she might teach Wozniacki a few things about ingenuity, creativity and all-court play. Wozniacki, meanwhile, can't help but add zest to her shots after working extensively with the master.
Then again, has Wozniacki reached the limits of her potential? Brad Gilbert, who wrote the tactical classic "Winning Ugly," sees a lot of himself in the world No. 1. "She's the one I like to watch the most," he said last week, "because so many people talk about how she doesn't have any weapons. She's a great counterpuncher, she works hard every match, and she is doing just as good as she can do."
* * * * *
Here's this week's You Gotta Be Kiddin' award to the Tennis Channel for perhaps the most useless camera angle ever devised. During certain stretches of play in Stuttgart, we suddenly had a view from the distant upper corner of the building, and when both players were hitting from baseline, you couldn't see either one of them! This would go on for groundstrokes on end.
"That's some exchange," Leif Shiras marveled after a great point between Wozniacki and Goerges. It was news to us. Don't get me wrong; I love the Tennis Channel. But what the hell?
Looking ahead: Nadal is going to take the week off to get ready for Madrid and his latest obliteration of a clay-court field. Novak Djokovic, who has been idle due to a knee injury, returns to the court this week in Belgrade, now in its third year as a clay-court event that has been widely praised by players on tour. That's Djokovic's homeland; expect a rousing return.
* * * * *
Anatomy of a miracle: I saw a point in the Nadal-Gael Monfils match that I still can't believe.
At 1-all and deuce in the second set of their Barcelona quarterfinal, Nadal changed the mood of a long rally with a short, deeply sliced backhand. Monfils raced to the scene and pushed a soft backhand down the line. The ball was essentially past Nadal when he got there, but he cleverly stabbed at a backhand and kept it in play. Monfils answered with a backhand drop, and the sprinting Nadal just tapped it back to keep it in play. With all kinds of time, Monfils had several options to end the point with ease. He made a pretty good choice, chipping a delicate cross-court backhand well wide of Nadal, and at this point, I hit the "pause" button on replay to isolate a freeze-frame. Once again, the ball was past Nadal; it was
Except that Nadal doesn't know "in vain." Somehow, combining speed to his left and a leaping motion in retreat -- never taking his eye off the ball -- Nadal managed to flick a little cross-court forehand winner at a ridiculously acute angle.
Monfils just smiled, and that was the only proper response. They should have launched the after-party right then.