Monday, July 28, 2008

Human Lighting Bolt v. DY: Monday Night Cincy Preview

Slow-motion sliding forehand by Monfils

The atmosphere will be electric on Monday night when Future meets Future. American Donald Young and Frenchman Gael Monfils are two young men with exceptional talent, exciting games and high expectations. DY is the Smooth Operator who makes everything look easy. Monfils cracks across the court like a Human Lighting Bolt. You never know where he's going to strike and he breaks several of the rules of tennis movement, as he demonstrates above by sliding on a hard court. Don't try this at home if you want to keep your knees and ankles intact.

Monfils, 23, is one of the most explosive athletes I've ever seen. When he turned pro he was an athlete who had no idea how to play tennis. Slowly but surely Monfils learned how to play the game and now he's harnessing is power -- he can crank his serve up to 140 mph - and rising quickly up the rankings. After Ali look-alike Jo Tsonga made the Aussie Open final, it touched off serious competition among Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet and Nicholas Mahut. Monfils made the semifinals at the French Open. Gilles Simon won Indianapolis and beat Federer at Toronto. The French are no doubt reaping the benefits of having several great young players compete with each other, much like the young Americans did in the 1990s.

Donald Young, now 18, was discovered in Chicago by John McEnroe and his agent. He has beautiful, smooth groundstrokes and soft hands. DY is the most promising young American out there. His career was initially mishandled by his parents and agents. Turning pro at 15, DY was at a physical and mental disadvantage against men twice his age. His handlers exacerbated the problem by accepting wild cards to get DY into the main draw instead of letting him play challengers and qualifying events. By playing the Phil Kings of the world, DY would have learned how to win. He would have developed confidence against players who were battle tested but not as tough as the top 100.

A few wild cards can be a good thing, but DY had a dismal first three years, barely able to win a match. DY's parents were a substantial part of the problem. In 2007 his mother referred to her son as an "icon" who faces a lot of pressure. I agree that he should be allowed time and patience to develop; nobody is the saviour of American tennis. But earth to the Young family: Donald isn't an icon. At least not yet.

In 2008 DY finally played some lower tier events and
he agreed with me about their importance:
His junior success earned Young several wild cards into U.S. tournaments. But Young wasn't able to capitalize at first. Now he's happy to get in on his own.
"I like being able to get in to tournaments by myself without having to ask or have someone give you access into the tournament," Young said.

Young said his confidence grew after winning a Challenger tournament in Aptos, Calif., last summer.
"Mentally, I felt I could play with those guys," he said. "I started to see other guys I had beaten win (tour matches). I realized I could do it, too. I started believing and I did it."
DY shot up over 350 places in the rankings this year, breaking into the top 100 for the first time. He accepted a wild card into the main draw and is entered in doubles as well. He and the Human Lighting Bolt play Monday night after Russians Marat Safin and Dimitri Tursonov.

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