Will experience translate to success for Young?
Donald Young spent last week as a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup team. Bonnie DeSimone writes what the 17-year-old learned from the likes of James Blake and Andy Roddick.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Donald Young got thrown into a pool with some serious card sharks last week, but he held his own. He invested $100 in a game of Dealer's Choice and came out $1 up -- not bad considering the monetary losses suffered by some past Davis Cup practice partners.
The 17-year-old said he was initially unsure whether he'd fit in during his first stint with the poker-loving U.S. team, given the age gap between him and his accomplished elders, although he said it helped to have fellow teenager Sam Querrey along.
In the end, Young said he felt "embraced." He left with an open invitation to train in Texas with Andy Roddick and in Florida with James Blake and Mardy Fish.
"It's funny how they so easily turn the switch on and off, from hanging out joking to getting really serious," Young said. "They'll be joking five minutes before the match, then they take five or 10 minutes to get themselves ready to play, and afterwards they're back to joking."
Blake said that's exactly what he hoped the talented teenager would absorb this week.
"[To] see how a lot of us train, how hard we work, how professional we are about it I was never able to get that kind of experience at a young age," Blake said. "I'd love to see him staying positive all the time out on the court. I think he gets down on himself, which I was definitely guilty of early in my career and probably still am. I see a little bit of myself in that."
Fish also had high praise for Young, likening his game to retired Chilean star Marcelo Rios. "He's got all the shots and amazing hands," Fish said. "He seems like a very good kid and a hard worker."
Bob Bryan echoed that sentiment, saying, "Give the kid two years, he'll be top 50. He's got all the tools. He just maybe needs to pull the trigger a little more."
The learning experience and the good vibes could be critical for Young at this stage of his closely scrutinized career. He turned pro at 14 and finished 2005 as junior world No. 1. He has won only one set in 10 ATP-level tournaments and reached his first final on the lower-level U.S. Pro Circuit in January.
His ATP losses have been extensively chronicled. Roddick, Blake and U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe all weighed in on his development last year, saying Young's confidence and his match readiness would suffer if he continued to get beaten up at that level. That provoked some resentment in Young's camp -- he is coached by his parents, Donald Sr. and Illona -- but a clearly energized Young said that is all in the rearview now.
Young said McEnroe broke the ice by approaching him last year at the Orange Bowl, the prestigious junior tournament held each December in Florida, and saying he had great expectations for Young's future. McEnroe backed up the talk by inviting the lefty here and giving him as much coaching as his team duties permitted. He said Young's game and his attitude were both impressive.
"Mentally and emotionally, I think it was an awesome week for him," McEnroe said. "What he really needs is to spend more time around these guys, practicing with them. He's got to develop his game more, hit bigger shots, which he can do.
"The guys have really taken him under their wings. If they think the kid has game and can go somewhere, they spend a little extra time with him. Andy took it upon himself, when he was actually practicing with him and beating him up pretty good, [to] say things to him -- 'You've hit every ball to my forehand,' or 'You served five times in a row to the same spot.'
Young endured minimal hazing last week, although the veterans did induce him to work some inside jokes into a speech before 300 guests at a VIP dinner.
"I've learned a lot about how to compete out there, to never stop, don't get that hangdog look out there," Young said.
See no evil: The Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling system has been in regular use for only a year, but it already seems odd when it's absent from a high-level competition like Davis Cup.
A philosophical difference between the U.S. Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation, which has jurisdiction over Davis Cup, kept Hawk-Eye from being installed in Winston-Salem. This did, however, revive the quaint tradition of gathering round the umpire's chair for a chat over close calls.
The system made its Davis Cup debut at last year's Argentina-Russia final in Moscow, but under ITF rules, unlimited challenges were allowed as opposed to the cap (two per set, one more for a tiebreak) used in WTA and ATP events, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. The ITF contends its approach is consistent with standard practice in clay-court matches, where any call can be overruled after visual inspection of a ball mark.
In December's final, Russia challenged 24 calls and Argentina 40 over five matches and 18 sets for an average of 3.55 challenges per set, not all that out of whack with the limited-challenge system.
"It was unbelievably successful from a crowd-control point of view. It had all the benefits it has in a normal tournament, and it adds suspense," said ITF communications director Barbara Travers.
Travers said the ITF would allow any host nation to use the system even if others don't. "That's no different than having it on stadium court and not on Court 1," she said. But she said the cost -- which includes installing a video board if there isn't one on-site, and paying for staff, equipment and site-specific testing -- probably puts it out of reach for many countries.
USTA director of team events Jeff Ryan said the USTA and ITF couldn't solve their differences in time for the quarterfinals. "But I can see it coming," he said. "It's become part of our show. And TV loves it."
Going to Carolina in their minds: The U.S. will face Sweden on the road in September's semifinals. A win there would mean either Germany on the road or Russia at home in the final. If it's the latter, Bob Bryan said the players want to come back to Winston-Salem.
"If we make the finals, we're going to push to get it back here," he said.
The U.S Tennis Association tries to spread the wealth where site selection is concerned but already broke with precedent for this tie, eschewing the usual bid process and telling Winston-Salem organizers early this year they would host if the U.S. beat the Czech Republic in the first round. Winston-Salem had been pestering the USTA for a return visit ever since the 2001 tie against India here.
Auto dealership owner Don Flow, who led the local effort, said the extra time enabled organizers to build a strong volunteer base and boost ticket sales. The result? Three sold-out days in a 14,500-capacity arena; very few no-shows on Easter Sunday for two meaningless singles matches; and the largest total attendance in 17 years.
It's a powerful argument for a repeat performance, but other factors like surface or market size could come into play.
"One of the goals that we have at the USTA is to move it around, to take it to different places around the country," McEnroe said. "In saying that, this was obviously very successful.
"Certainly there wouldn't be anyone on this team that would say they wouldn't want to come back here. All the elements are in place; this was a great event, a great tie."
Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.
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