Fresh face could be the next U.S. tennis star
Black phenom Donald Young, a pro at age 15, could be the next U.S. star -- regardless of color
By Tracy Dodds
July 17, 2005
The word from Atlanta, through Chicago, to the office of the RCA Championships in Indianapolis on Friday morning was that Donald Young had a sprained wrist and would have to withdraw from this week's professional tennis tournament.
The response from Indianapolis, through Chicago, to Atlanta was that the youngster simply could not be a no-show. No way.
"We need him here for so many reasons," RCA tournament director Rob MacGill said Friday. "We're going to find a way to make this happen. We're working with the ATP on a request to make his first match on Tuesday or Wednesday to give the wrist time to heal."
By Friday afternoon, Young had agreed to make the trip from his home in Atlanta.
"We wanted to do what was best for the tournament," said Young's manager, Gary Swain, whose office is in Chicago.
Young also was expected in Indianapolis for a Black Expo appearance this weekend.
As if being ranked No. 1 among the world's junior players and being a 15-year-old professional still trying to win a match in a pro tournament isn't enough, Young has all the social duties that go along with being a high-profile black athlete in what is traditionally not a black sport.
That's a lot of responsibility. Asked how he handles the pressure, Young said: "It's normal now."
Young turned pro at 14 when he signed with Swain of IMG, the multinational management and marketing organization that represents the biggest of the bigs: Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning, John McEnroe and Venus Williams. Swain lined him up with "substantial" sponsorship deals. Young is paid to wear Nike shoes and clothing and use Head rackets.
The sponsorship money allows him to choose from a world of tournaments and allows his parents the freedom to travel with him. In the past few months, he has played in Mexico, Australia, Italy, Belgium, France and Great Britain -- where he made the semifinal round of the Wimbledon junior competition.
Everywhere he goes, there is much ado. It's as normal for him to see his name in the Times of London as in The New York Times.
It always has been normal, in his experience, for tennis players to be black. After all, he was raised by black tennis players.
His mother, Illona, played tennis at Iowa Wesleyan, and his father, Donald, played at Alabama State. They met while playing mixed doubles.
Donald grew up on the courts while his parents taught at Tennis in Motion in Chicago. They now teach at the South Fulton Tennis Center in Atlanta and take turns accompanying their son to tournaments.
So Young's position on the importance of being a black player of such high profile is: "Most of the time, I don't really think about it."
It's a big jump
Young's goal here, assuming the swelling in his left (racket) hand and wrist has subsided, will be to win a match. He has accepted wild cards into five previous professional tournaments and was eliminated in the first round each time.
That, of course, has been cited as evidence that he went pro too soon.
His manager and his father disagree.
"He has always played up," Swain said. "At 10, he played 12-and-under, at 12 he played 14s, at 14 he played 18s. That's what has helped him to accelerate at such a great pace.
"This next jump (to the pros) is the most difficult jump."
Young was playing up in January when he won the Australian Open junior title at 15, becoming the youngest boy to win a Grand Slam junior.
Young's father added: "The beauty of it is he has the opportunity to get as many matches as he needs in juniors, as well as testing his wings with the pros.
"If he played week in and week out on the pro tour and kept losing, that could hurt his confidence. But he can still play juniors while he gets his strength. He has the best of both worlds."
The 5-9, 145-pound Young, who has good hands and sound strategy, doesn't have the strength of male pros.
His mother said it's easy for those closest to Donald to remember that he's still a boy.
"Sometimes we have to remind others when they start comparing him to grown men," she said.
Young isn't second-guessing his move to the pros.
"I haven't really broken in yet," he said. "I don't feel I should be beating (Andy) Roddick or (Roger) Federer or any of the guys in the top 50."
He agrees playing top competition is the way to get better.
"There are advantages, and there are no disadvantages," he said.
Yes, he gave up his NCAA eligibility, "But that doesn't mean I can't go to college," he said. "It just means I can't play tennis for a college."
Been here before
Young said he accepted the wild card into the RCA Championships because it was a tournament he always watched, and he likes Indianapolis. He has played here in the annual Midwestern Tennis Association Championships, a competition sanctioned by the American Tennis Association, the oldest black sports organization in the country.
The American Tennis Association has been around since 1916 and helped launch the careers of stars Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe.
The USTA's Rodney Harmon, who used to direct the league's multicultural department, says Young has gone beyond being noted as the next black tennis star. Now, as director of men's tennis for the USTA's High Performance program, designed to develop the next wave of U.S. talent, Harmon has a different perspective.
"I think he's one of the next great American players," he said.
"Blacks have been around in tennis for many, many years. We've done a pretty good job of promoting the sport at the grass-roots level. The biggest problem is making the move from recreational tennis to professional tennis. That's where we lose some talent because of the cost."
The USTA has made diversity a top priority the past several years.
A recent poll of 25,000 households conducted by the USTA and the Tennis Industries Association indicated that one of three new tennis players are either black or Hispanic.
"Donald Young is among the young Americans I want to see playing on the final weekend of the U.S. Open," said Harmon, who is not concerned about Young's move to the pro ranks. "In Europe, there's no difference between amateurs and pros."
Harmon is concerned only with Young's development.
"He's our most talented young player," Harmon said.
Asked how long it will be before he can compete on the pro level, Young said: "I just want to see what I can do. . . . Maybe two years; maybe three years."