Young, world's best junior talent, chases the Tiger

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There seem to be two types of player which win the boys' singles here at the All England Club. You can be either a Federer, an Edberg or a Cash, or a Whitehouse, Mahut or Mergea. It is Donald Young's intention to bracket himself with the first group.

The 15-year-old American may very well be the most outrageous juvenile talent to set foot on these lawns. The youngest-ever world No 1 junior, the boy from Chicago also became the youngest junior male champion in Grand Slam history at the Australian Open in January. He is setting new standards.

Yet - and there is always a yet with a germinating talent, no matter its quality - the judgement days still lie ahead for Young. The path from boys to senior level has plenty of burnt-out vehicles at the roadside. This week will not tell all.

A month shy of his 16th birthday, Young's ambition is to become the second-youngest winner of the boys' singles here, a table which is led by David Skoch of the Czech Republic. It is probably best not to ponder what he is doing now.

In the way, briefly, in the second round yesterday was Tristan Farron-Mahon, of Ireland. Out on 16, Young was one of the very few players here this week younger than his court number. He wore an earring, as did his opponent, and the umpire, Stuart Taylor. All the combative jewels, though, came solely from the Donald.

Jim Courier watched proceedings as Young cleverly mixed up his serve and showed a mature capacity to construct a point en route to his 6-1, 6-4 victory. His mother, Ilonah, was on hand to dish out the praise. "Go on, babe," she said. "Nice, babe. Well done, babe."

This terminology was appropriate. Young began preparing for his professional career rather early. At the age of two. "My mom would teach me hand-eye co-ordination, rolling a ball to me," he said. "By three I was hitting."

This infant introduction, a rampant amateur career and a propensity for wearing red and black colours in the closing stages of competition have led Young to be compared to another black American sportsman. Young is chasing the Tiger. "That's kind of weird because I haven't even got close to what he's done," he says. "But it's always nice that people see me in that way."

A pivotal moment in Young's career came when he was a 10-year-old ball-boy at a seniors' event in Chicago. John McEnroe was a competitor and his practice session appeared to have been derailed when his hitting partner, John Lloyd, was trapped in a traffic jam. The then 12-and-under American champion thought he knew a perfect replacement. "I was really nervous, but my friend went up to John and asked if we could hit with him," Young said.

McEnroe was impressed. "The sky is the limit," he said after their impromptu knockabout. "He's the first person I've ever seen with hands like me." McEnroe believes this to be the richest compliment a player can ever receive.

Yet the sunlit uplands are still some way off. Young has beaten three players in the top 200, but in his first five appearances on the ATP Tour he has yet to win a set.

A growth spurt is required. "It's going to be hard," he said. "Once I get by a couple of matches I'll have a little more confidence.

"They are bigger and more experienced. They never give up. The guy today, once I got up on him he wasn't running for some balls. The professionals never stop running. My goal is to be No 1 in the world and win Grand Slams, but I think a lot of players say that."

For now it is being said by the most promising junior this sport possesses. Donald Young is the name. You heard it here first. And maybe last.