Updated: January 17, 2014 3:40:33 pm
Big things were once predicted for Donald Young, the former tennis prodigy who turned pro at 14, had a Nike contract at 15 and played in his first US Open at 16.
Young’s star, however, has never really taken off. And though there have certainly been more lows than highs for him over the years, none could have been more devastating than the streak.
A week before hitting his career-high ranking of 38 in February 2012, Young lost a match to John Isner in San Jose. Then he lost to Ryan Sweeting at Delray Beach, Steve Darcis at Indian Wells and David Goffin at the Sony Open.
Young didn’t win again until August, a streak of 17 consecutive losses that sent his ranking — and confidence — plummeting. But in a sign of a possible turnaround for the 24-year-old American, Young reached the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over 24th-seeded Andreas Seppi on Thursday. He now has won more ATP-level matches so far this year than he did in all of 2013.
“I happen to be back playing well and hopefully I can keep improving,’’ he said. “This is where I want to be.’’ He next faces No. 16-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan for a spot in the fourth round, which would equal his run at the 2011 US Open, his best Grand Slam result.
That tournament was Young’s much-delayed coming out, when he finally looked to be fulfilling his long-hyped potential. He rallied from 1-4 down in the fifth set to shock then No. 14-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round before dispatching Juan Ignacio Chela in the third.
Weeks later he reached his first ATP final in Bangkok and cracked the top 50. His confidence was high — and then came the remarkable slide.
“After the first couple losses, I didn’t feel too far off. But as the numbers steadily grew from 12 to 13 to 14…’’ he recalled, trailing off as he listed the defeats.
The only way back after dropping out of the top 200 was to play on the Challenger circuit. By the autumn, he had achieved a streak of a different sort — he won 12 straight matches and two tournaments in California.
Being away from the limelight also helped him reflect. “You grow up, you want to be a pro, you want to be No. 1,’’ he said. “And then when you get out there, you realise how tough it is, you debate sometimes if you want to do it or not. But at the end of the day, it’s my job, it’s what I want to do. I love playing tennis.’’
His win Thursday not only got him into the third round — it gave him revenge. One of the players who beat him during his losing streak was Seppi.
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