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Thursday, March 23, 2006
Young not concerned despite winless record

By Bonnie DeSimone
Special to ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- It was the most thorough drubbing of his short pro career, a 6-0, 6-0 whitewashing in the first round of the Nasdaq-100 Open that took just under 49 minutes Thursday, and kept world junior champion Donald Young Jr. winless on the ATP Tour after nine tries.

An optimist would look at every loss as a learning experience, but at what point will Young stop soaking up knowledge and start feeling like a punching bag?

Not yet, not nearly, according to the 16-year-old. He and his parents said he won't alter his strategy of taking occasional wild cards in big tournaments while continuing to play in lower-level pro events and the junior Grand Slams.

Donald Young
American teenager Donald Young failed to win a game in his first-round loss to previously winless Carlos Berlocq.

"I can always go back to juniors and win tournaments and beat people as bad as I was beat today," said Young, who grew up in Chicago but now lives in Atlanta. "I really do think I'm learning something from each match. I play differently every time."

Young, a lefty, said his backhand was affected by a sore right wrist that still hurts after a ball-hopper cart fell on it earlier this month. But nothing worked for him Thursday against 23-year-old Carlos Berlocq of Argentina, as Young made 34 unforced errors to Berlocq's 13 and won only 20 of 72 points.

"At least I didn't give up," he said.

Berlocq turned down interview requests after the match. The win was his first against seven losses in ATP events, although he was ranked 81st coming into the Nasdaq-100 because of strong results on the Challenger circuit.

Although Berlocq's appraisal of Young remained a mystery, No. 9 James Blake, who will play Berlocq in the second round, weighed in with his assessment.

"He's got some learning to do at the Futures and Challengers level, and then he can get back up here and maybe have some success," Blake said. "But I think right now he's not quite ready for it. Most 16-year-olds aren't. It's very, very rare that a kid of that age is ready to compete at this level. [Rafael] Nadal was, probably; [Lleyton] Hewitt was."

Blake, who attended and played for Harvard for two years before turning pro, said he hit with Young once but has never had a heart-to-heart with him.

"He seems to have a few people around him at all times," Blake said. "It's tough to break through that."

He said he hopes Young doesn't let lopsided losses affect him as he works on his game in lower-profile settings.

"It's a really good thing to figure out that you've earned something and to have done it the right way," Blake said. "You don't feel like you owe anyone anything. You don't feel like you're not sure if you belong, you know you belong there."

Andy Roddick made similar comments at Indian Wells not long ago. Young said he gets tired of all the opining.

"No one else has ever been in my position," he said. "We're going at it our way, and it's going pretty well, except in the ATP matches. … I don't think they were as good as me when they were 16, so I don't think they even had the decisions to make."

His parents, Donald Sr. and Illona, contend they are keeping their son's competitive life in balance.

"He's always been playing a level above [his age] and this is no different," his father said. "I don't think there's anyone out there that wouldn't take these opportunities if they were offered."

The choice to have Young play in ATP events means the spotlight will inevitably shift to him, highlighting the losses other low-ranked players labor through in obscurity. But Young Sr. said that attention is misdirected.

"Let's judge him at 16, 17, 18. Let's not judge him in the interim," he said.

Added Illona Young, "He appreciates [other players] looking out for his best interests, but the bottom line is that they can't relate to where he is because they've never been there."

And if he became demoralized, "We'd step back," she said.

Young's agent, IMG's Gary Swain, whose only other individual client is John McEnroe, said the ATP events account for about a quarter of Young's competitions.

"We're monitoring him and being flexible with his schedule," Swain said.

Young played in seven ATP events last year and has entered two thus far in 2006. He has played five Futures tournaments this season, reaching the quarterfinals in two and the semis in one, and one Challenger.

He is the youngest player to finish as junior world No. 1, doing it last year when he also became the youngest junior Slam winner at the Australian Open.

Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.