- Kamakshi Tandon
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Leading by a set and serving at 1-1 in the second-set tiebreaker -- a pretty routine position for a professional tennis player. But when you haven't won a match in six months, nothing is routine.
So Donald Young, who up until then had been happy with the way he was serving, double-faulted. The next time, he had a second-serve point, he did it again. Young lost the tiebreaker and the match 3-6, 7-6, 6-0 to Jeremy Chardy in the first round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, extending his losing streak to 16 matches.
"When [you've] won hardly any matches, you feel really far away even if you're close," Young said afterward, admitting he had collapsed in the third set. "He was freer. It was one set all. Primarily it was mental, also, for sure."
His winless run hasn't gone unnoticed in the locker room. "Yeah, we're all aware of that one," Bernard Tomic said with a grimace later that day, having just snapped a seven-match losing streak of his own.
"You know, it's hard for him. When you start losing and getting down five, six matches, it becomes difficult to turn it around. You need some luck. You need a match to win to get back into the position you were six months ago. I think for him it's the opportunity that he had today. He was unlucky and lost in the third set, but I am sure he will play well. He loves the hard-court season."
Chardy, Young's conqueror, knew his opponent had been struggling, but was surprised to find out just how big the number had become. "Oh, 16 is a lot. I didn't know that," the Frenchman said. "I know he lost many match on first round, but not 16."
Young says he "would be lying'' if he said he didn't think about the streak, but insists he hasn't counted. "Honestly, I'm not keeping tally," he said. "People will say this is like the 10th or 11th one. I don't really want to know, and I haven't been reading anything online lately, because it doesn't help."
But the number has become large enough that he's also starting to hear the name Vince Spadea, who holds the Open-era record with 21 losses in a row. His streak finally ended in 2000 when he defeated Greg Rusedski in the first round of Wimbledon, prompting one British paper to declare "Rusedski falls to world's biggest loser." But Spadea bounced back, reaching a career-high ranking for No. 18 in 2005.
Young doesn't remember Spadea's ignominious streak, but he hopes he can put his own behind him with similar success. The 23-year-old American has becomes accustomed to attracting negative attention over the years. Ever since he turned pro in 2004 as a precocious junior, it's always been something -- the string of wild-card defeats when he first turned pro, his slow progress up the rankings, continuing to keep his parents as coaches, last year's Twitter fracas with the USTA -- and now this.
Showing his hard-earned experience, he was generally approachable and composed when speaking to reporters in Toronto about his latest loss. "You tell me. I don't know," he said, when asked how he could turn it around. "You keep playing, fighting, competing. I'm a good enough player, at some point I'm going to win."
One change Young hopes will help is going back to his old racket. "Just until last month I was playing with a bunch of different rackets. That didn't help. I think that was part of the reason," he said. "I was playing well last year, I switched from my racket to another. Now I'm back to it, but it takes a while to get back, get used to something."
But the longer this lasts, the longer the road back becomes. It was about a year ago that Young started to put together some good results, reaching the semifinals of the ATP event in Washington, D.C., and making the fourth round of the U.S. Open with a five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka along the way. With those results now starting to come off, his ranking will begin a steep slide if he doesn't start to win some matches. He is currently at No. 84 after reaching a career high of No. 38 earlier this year, and he could be out of the top 100 after the U.S. Open.
Young had another chance to end the drought at the Western and Southern Masters in Cincinnati on Monday when he sneaked into the main draw because of some late withdrawals but notched yet another loss, this time to Jesse Levine. Credit him for continuing to show and take the beatings, but it means another week of finger-pointing and questions about how long it'll continue.
The bright side is that the bigger the fall, the bigger the comeback. If he can recover, this period will become a badge of honor. With any luck, he says, "I can laugh about it later this year."
For now, however, it's only getting more serious.
Donald Young says one day he will look back and laugh at his long losing streak. But there's nothing funny about the current state of his game.