Here's how Donald Young can improve

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
11:32
PM ET
Despite playing with a broken toe, Jurgen Melzer defused one of tennis' most explosive servers in sweeping Milos Raonic to collect his fourth career title in Memphis this past Sunday. The next day, Donald Young showed signs of a shattered spirit in a dismal 6-1, 6-1 loss to Ryan Sweeting in a Delray Beach first-round match that spanned all of 52 minutes.

What does the left-handed Austrian, who owns two Grand Slam doubles titles, have to do with a left-handed Atlanta resident who has 34 career wins to his credit in his eighth pro season?

More than you might think. Like the 30-year-old Melzer, Young, 22, is a former junior Grand Slam champion who has an undeniable gift for the game: all-court skills, a flair for creating angles, soft hands around the net and the ability to strike accurately while on the run. Like Melzer, Young has a habit of degenerating into morose moods on court and digging himself a deeper hole when things go wrong.

And like Melzer, whose ranking hovered between No. 80 and No. 100 when he was Young's age before he matured and cracked the top 10 for the first time at age 29, Young, who became the youngest year-end world No. 1 junior in 2005, has the potential to play his best tennis in the coming years if he can summon the desire and discipline to do so.

Before you start rolling your eyes and dismiss the world No. 38 as just another overhyped, underachieving American, consider Young's game from the vantage point of a top-five player who faced him three times last season.

"He's talented, so he can hit winners from all parts of the court. He comes forward pretty well, he volleys good, he's got nice feel around the net, and he's got quite easy power which can be sometimes difficult," said Andy Murray, who lost to Young in Indian Wells last March. "Guys look like they're not winding up to hit a big shot, and he can create quite a lot of power. He's got a big first serve when he goes for it, but he can be a little bit inconsistent, as well. He can come and go in matches a little bit. That's why he's flashy."

The enigmatic Young can be so erratic during matches, you can sometimes wonder if you're watching the same player on successive points.

Forecasting Young's future is a task as easy as catching a 140 mph John Isner serve with a tennis ball can. Young was all over the tennis map last season, showing the good (a career-best U.S. Open fourth-round appearance and his first ATP final in Bangkok). Then there was the bad: a straight-sets loss to No. 382 Alex Bogdanovic in the opening round of the Aptos Challenger last July. And, of course, the ugly: His infamous "F--- the USTA" tweet after not receiving a USTA wild card into the French Open.

Working with USTA coach Mike Sell, former mentor to Monica Seles, Young edged No. 9 Gael Monfils to reach that first ATP final in Bangkok last fall before replacing Sell with his mother, Ilona, who has coached him for much of his career.

If Young is to fulfill his potential, he could learn a few things from Melzer's example, including train with better players, play doubles consistently to sharpen his serve, return and court skills, and hire a coach. Melzer points to his hiring of former Wimbledon doubles champion Joakim Nystrom as a key to his evolution.

The man known as DY must find the day-to-day desire and urgency to take the next step in the maturation process or run the risk of staying forever Young.

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