OPINION: IMG, Put Double-Bageled Young Back in Oven

Posted on March 24, 2006

By Richard Vach, Tennis-X.com Senior Writer

Rain hammered the Masters Series-Miami Thursday, but not before 16-year-old wildcard American "The" Donald Young was hammered 6-0, 6-0 in the first round by Argentina's Carlos Berlocq, who had himself never before won an ATP-level match.

Young was 0-8 career at the ATP level entering the match, while the teen rookie Berlocq was winless in seven attempts. Managed by IMG, the former world junior No. 1 Young has been pushed onto the pro stage even though his teenage physique has yet to mature, and he has failed to win titles at both the futures and challenger levels in tennis' minor leagues.

"I can always go back to juniors and win tournaments and beat people as bad as I was beat today," Young told reporters, holding on to his optimistic outlook. "I really do think I'm learning something from each match. I play differently every time."

"Different" would be a kind assessment of Thursday's one-sided affair, which Young said was hampered on his part by a sore right wrist. The teen also showed he is tiring of the opinions of players such as Andy Roddick and James Blake, and Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe who all say the youth is undercooked and needs to spend more time at the lower levels.

"I don't think they were as good as me when they were 16," Young said. "I don't think they even had the decisions to make."


If you want to take a look at today's players that were on your level, take a look at Lleyton Hewitt, who at 15 was winning tournaments -- at the challenger level, where you should be.

It's tough to have any perspective when you're surrounded by a constant posse of "yes-people" comprised of parents, agents, friends, hangers-on, etc., and your ego is fueled by a constant supply of IMG wildcards, win or lose.

Even James Blake, speaking with reporters in Miami, said he had hit with the teen but hasn't been able to break through the posse to speak with the Young-ster about the best way to approach rising in the ranks.

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

The problem with Young lies with his handlers. Who could blame a kid for wanting to take every wildcard he can get at the tour level after hooking up with one of the major management firms? But what is the psychological damage to a kid (and this is a kid, not an individual mature beyond his years) who can't win a futures or challenger event, yet is thrown to the lions, getting double-bageled by unspectacular players like Berlocq?

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

True, but can't IMG bank these wildcards for future use? Maybe until he shows he can at least win a futures event?

If there is a voice of reason out there, hopefully The Donald can tune in to Blake who has been there and done that.

"He's a very talented kid, but still, he's a kid," Blake told reporters. "I think he's got some learning to do at the futures and challengers level first, and then he can get back up here and maybe have some success. But I think right now, he's not quite ready for it. Most 16-year-olds aren't."

If IMG really cares about the development of The Donald, both mentally and physically (the kid is still roughly only 145 pounds soaking wet), IMG will tell the parents and handlers they can bank these wilcards for future use. Young is obviously brimming with talent, but let the ugly manhandlings at the tour level stop.

Unless someone puts him on a more conventional path to stardom, there could be irreparable damage to the egg-laying psyche of IMG's teenage golden goose.

Richard Vach is a senior writer for Tennis-X.com and can currently be seen on The Tennis Channel's "Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders" episodes.