Sunday, September 29, 2013

Another California crown puts Young in state of bliss

Posing with the winner's check of $7,200 in the inaugural Napa Valley Challenger
are (left to right) Napa Valley Country Club general manager Todd Meginness,
tournament director Chris Arns, champion Donald Young and tournament
chairman Kevin Crossland. Photos by Paul Bauman
   NAPA, Calif. -- The question caught Donald Young off-guard.
   "Red or white?" Chris Arns, the tournament director of the $50,000 Napa Valley Challenger, asked Young in a postmatch interview on the court today.
   "You mean wine (preference)?" Young responded. "I don't really drink. I tried red once, so I guess I'll go with that."
   The 24-year-old Atlanta resident felt at home in wine country anyway, defeating Matthew Ebden 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to win the inaugural tournament at the Napa Valley Country Club. Ebden, a 25-year-old Australian, led by a service break in the second set.
   Five of Young's seven Challenger singles titles (all on hardcourt) have come in California. After breaking through in Aptos in 2007, he won Sacramento in 2008, Calabasas in 2009 and Carson in 2010.
   "The weather's good. It's calm," Young said of the Golden State. "I like it out here, to be honest. Can't tell you. I just like California."
   So much so that Young is thinking of buying a house in the Los Angeles area.
   "That's where most of the hitting and players are," he reasoned.
   Both Young and Ebden are scheduled to play in the Sacramento Challenger next week and the Tiburon Challenger, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the week after that.
   This is the first time in Young's 10-year professional career -- yes, the former child prodigy turned pro at 14 -- that he has won two Challengers in one year. He also triumphed in Leon, Mexico, in April.
   Once projected as the next great American, Young has never won a title on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis. But after struggling for years, the undersized left-hander appeared to be reaching his potential in 2011.
   Young reached the third round at Indian Wells as a qualifier, stunning then-No. 5 Andy Murray along the way, in March and gained the semifinals at Washington, D.C., in August. Then in consecutive tournaments, Young advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open and the final in Bangkok, losing to Murray each time.
   Young attained a career-high No. 38 in the world rankings in February 2012 but then went into a tailspin. He lost in the first round of 16 consecutive tournaments from February to August and went 5-24 for the year at the top level of men's tennis. 
   "It was mental," Young reflected. "I got (to No. 38); I thought some things might happen that didn't happen; you're not working as hard as you were to get there; I switched rackets, which wasn't a good idea. A lot of things happened, it spirals, and it takes you a while to get back, but now I feel I'm coming back."
   When pressed on what "things" happened after he reached No. 38, Young said: "I was the fourth-ranked American and maybe thought a few things would come with that, but they didn't. I don't want to get too into it because we're good now."
   Young probably was referring to the USTA. In any case, he has rebounded since plunging to No. 202 in February. By winning the Napa title, Young jumped 17 places to No. 125.
Matthew Ebden settled for the runner-up
trophy after leading by a set and a break
in the final.
   When Ebden broke for 3-2 in the second set, it appeared he was on his way to the title. Young immediately broke back, though, and broke again for the set with a backhand, cross-court passing shot on Ebden's high-kicking first serve.
   "It was close to being over," conceded Young, seeded sixth. "I started to play freer. I wasn't as free in the beginning as I wanted to be, but he was playing well. He was mixing it up, giving me a lot of different looks. It wasn't a lot of pace; I had to generate a lot. It was tough. So I just focused and started hitting out, and it started working a little bit."
   In the third set, both players held serve as Young took a 3-2 lead. Then Ebden, seeded eighth, mysteriously fell apart. He lost his serve at love -- double-faulting twice, including on break point -- to trail 4-2 and double-faulted again on Young's second championship point.
   Ebden, who won the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Slovakian-born Australian Jarmila Gajdosova in January, cited changing conditions for his downfall. After a week of sun, the final was played in partly cloudy, breezy weather with a high of 74 degrees (23 Celsius).       
   "I was up a set and a break," noted Ebden, who improved eight notches to No. 114 after reaching a career-high No. 61 last October. "I was playing quite well, and it was a little bit different suddenly. It was quite windy, and Donald is a left-hander. It's a bit different.
   "To play without the sun today was a little bit different. (The conditions) got really dead and slow, and Donald defended really well. Then he hit some good shots and a lot of lines when he needed to."
   Ebden also blamed the weather for his late double faults.
   "I didn't feel too comfortable with the racket," said Ebden, whose only other double fault game in his first service game. "The tension in the strings feels a lot different when it gets hot, and then it's cold and windy. It's not always that easy.
(Left to right) Meginness, doubles champions John-Patrick Smith and Bobby
Reynolds, Arns, runners-up Steve Johnson and Tim Smyczek, and Crossland.
   "It's one of those things. One or two doubles in the match came at the wrong time, I guess."
   In the doubles final, Bobby Reynolds and John-Patrick Smith defeated Steve Johnson and Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-6 (2). All but Smith, an Australian, are Americans. Both teams were unseeded.
   Following are links to the completed singles and doubles draws in the Napa Valley Challenger:
   Here are links to the singles qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Monday's schedule in the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger at the Natomas Racquet Club:

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