Commentary

Donald Young's an Olympian

Don't expect much from the fourth singles player on the U.S. Olympic team

Updated: July 26, 2012, 11:11 AM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Imagine this year's Team USA basketball squad with Brian Scalabrine at center.

What if Boston's Jon Lester, and his 5.46 ERA, were named the All-Star Game's starting pitcher?

How would you feel if the Detroit Lions were named the NFL's team of the decade? In any decade?

This is exactly how many tennis fans feel about Donald Young being on the U.S. Olympic team.

[+] EnlargeDonald Young
Press Association/AP PhotoNow would be a great time for Donald Young to break out. It just seems unlikely.

Last week in Atlanta, Young lost to a guy who had never won an ATP-level match before, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The dude is 2-17 on the season and is coming into London riding a 14-match losing streak in singles. On top of that, in eight years on tour, he's never won a title -- singles or doubles. Hell, he just made his first finals appearance last year, so why in the world would we think he could win a medal?

At this point, if you hadn't been paying attention to tennis before, you are probably wondering how such a scrub got a chance to represent the country in the first place.

Well, first of all, he's not a total scrub. The 23-year-old Chicago native was a great junior player. At 15, he won the Australian Open junior title. At 16 years, 5 months, he became the youngest junior to end the year at year No. 1. In 2007 he won the junior Wimbledon title. And despite his 34-77 career singles record as a pro, he did play well toward the end of last year, including a run into the fourth round of the U.S. Open. That was good enough to get his ranking up to qualify for the Games.

But this year he has shown that he is what his overall record says he is. And truth be told, the real reason he's on the team with Andy Roddick, John Isner and Ryan Harrison is because the Americans who are actually better than him were dealing with or coming back from health issues when the team was announced in June.

For example, Mardy Fish, who won silver in 2004 and is currently ranked No. 13, was sidelined in April by a heart ailment that has since been resolved. And Sam Querrey, who won four titles in 2010, had elbow surgery in June 2011, had another minor surgery for an infection in September, was out of commission for three months and is working his way back. An argument could even be made that Brian Baker, who had been battling a series of debilitating injuries since 2005, is a better choice, considering he's 8-4 this year and made it to the fourth round of Wimbledon, where the Olympic matches are being played.

Young's selection is just another irritating quirk in tennis' flawed system. It's the same system that didn't think the Williams sisters deserved to be seeded in doubles for an Olympics being played at Wimbledon, despite them being undefeated in Olympic doubles play and winning five Wimbledon doubles trophies, including this year.

Look, I'm not trying to hate on Young.

I give him credit for sticking with the sport through all of the hard times, staying encouraged despite being passed over for the Davis Cup team multiple times. Injuries to others or not, he did earn the ranking that got him to London.

However, he Olympics are not supposed to be about the individual athlete but about representing one's country. He's clearly nowhere near the best we have to offer.

Young could've withdrawn to allow a better player represent us, but with the draw upon us, it appears we're stuck with him. According to the rules: "After 12.00 midnight GMT on 20 July 2012, if a player withdraws from the Olympic Tennis Event a player who is on site and not competing in the singles event will be selected by the Referee and the ITF Technical Delegates to take his or her place. The selection shall be based on the latest recognised international singles computer rankings and the selected player must not bring the number of players from that country in the men's or women's singles events to more than four (4)."

Querrey is playing in L.A. this week and Fish is slotted to play a tournament in Washington, D.C., that starts Monday.

The recent struggles of American men on any of tennis' biggest stages are well-documented. Andre Agassi is the last man to win a singles gold in 1996. No one has won a Grand Slam since Roddick captured the U.S. Open in 2003. Roddick's not expected to take gold in London but he's at least a threat given that he's won his two of his last three tournaments and the Olympics are being played at Wimbledon, where he's a three-time finalist. Isner has never been past the second round at Wimbledon, but he does have four career titles and is 30-13 on the year. Like Young, the 20-year-old Harrison doesn't have a singles title either. But he's 21-18 on the season and does have a pair of career doubles trophies, so he at least know what it feels like to win an ATP pro-level event.

Look, being an Olympian is an incredible honor, and no one faults him for competing. It's just that there's nothing on paper to suggest he's going to be much competition. So I'm happy for him but I'm sad for us. But who knows? A group of NBA players coached by George Karl (and no, even after several stars begged off, Scalabrine wasn't on that roster to blame, either) failed to medal in the 2002 FIBA World Championships, so I guess anything's possible on the international stage.

It's just that Young's chances of winning are so remote that a betting site gave Fish a better shot of winning than him -- and Fish is not even playing.

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine