Donald Young has not won a match since February, falling to 80th in the world. (Zumapress)
MASON, Ohio -- How do you know when a player is stuck in a funk? When he doesn't fight off questions about bad streaks and slumps with a defiant bark, but simply slinks down in his chair and answers them matter-of-factly with an air of resignation.
That was Donald Young on Monday.
Young's year to forget continued when he lost to fellow American Jesse Levine 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the first round of the Western & Southern Open. Young relinquished a 4-1 lead in the second set and lost his 17th consecutive match, four short of the ATP record held by another American, the colorful Vince Spadea, who dropped 21 in a row from October 1999 to June 2000.
The 23-year-old Young slipped to 2-20 for the season, his last victory coming against Grigor Dimitrov in Memphis in late February.
"Honestly, you don't really think about it until the match starts to maybe slip a little," Young said. "But I wouldn't really say it was so much the streak or the number of matches, it's just the feeling of not having much confidence right now."
Young began the season ranked a career-high No. 39 and has tumbled to No. 80, though that ranking could plummet if he doesn't turn things around quickly. Of his 620 ranking points, half of them are tied up in his run to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open and the final of Bangkok. A failure to defend those points could drop him out of the top 150.
He took every question in stride after Monday's match, but he looks as lost off the court as he does on it. His answers would trail off and explanations would come up empty, and any sense of hope in one answer was undercut by uncertainty in the next.
Young is a player who draws his confidence from results, but when you haven't won a single match in six months, there's not a whole lot from which to draw. His game lacks focus and clarity right now and when the matches get tight, he's the one who blinks.
"Maybe at a time when [opponents] would get mad or check out they're not because they're waiting for me to do it," Young said. "They're just staying in there longer and not showing much emotion and that doesn't help either. "
For now, Young seems content (as content as anyone on a significant losing streak could be) to keep plugging away hoping that the next match will bring a different result. He's hired Roger Smith, who had been working with Sloane Stephens, to join his parents on the coaching side. One option would be to drop down from playing ATP Tour-level events and work his way through the Challenger circuit, where he should able to score some wins and build his confidence. But Young wants to continue facing the elite and his ranking is still high enough to get him direct entry into the biggest tournaments.
"I'm sure I can go down to Challengers and win some matches and points, but I want to do it here," said Young, who will play Winston-Salem next week in his final tune-up for the U.S. Open.
"Every week you think it's going to be different because the matches you're losing are close. Like in Casablanca, I was up a set and 5-2 in the breaker and ended up losing [to Benoit Paire]. So you feel like the next week will be it."