Sunday, October 6, 2013

Young rallies for second NorCal title in two weeks

Donald Young, left, overcame a slow start to beat Tim Smyczek, right, 7-5, 6-3
for his second Sacramento Challenger title. Also shown is tournament director
Brian Martinez. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- For a while today, Donald Young's winning streak was in jeopardy.
   With the physical grind of surviving nine matches over two weeks taking a toll, the 24-year-old left-hander got off to a terrible start against fellow American Tim Smyczek in the final of the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger.
   Young was broken at love in the opening game, lost eight of the first nine points and trailed 5-3 in the first set. Then he found his legs.
   And then some.
   Young, seeded eighth, reeled off the next seven games en route to a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Smyczek, seeded second, at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   After improving to 8-3 lifetime against Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-chek), Young said of his slow start: "It's disappointing. He was playing well, and I was missing a lot of shots I hadn't been missing the last two weeks. When you get to the end, it's a little tiring, but you've got to push through it. I'm happy I was able to step up and play better later."
   Young, coming off the title in the inaugural $50,000 Napa Valley Challenger, won tournaments in back-to-back weeks as a professional for the first time. He'll try for a Northern California Triple Crown in the $100,000 First Republic Bank Tiburon Challenger, which begins Monday at the Tiburon Peninsula Club.
   "It would be awesome," said Young, who did not lose a set in the Sacramento Challenger. "Next week is going to be tough. I have more miles on my legs right now than anyone else, but I also have a lot more confidence."
   Young fell just short of a Sacramento sweep. Second-seeded Matt Reid and John-Patrick Smith of Australia edged wild cards Jarmere Jenkins of College Park, Ga., and Young 7-6 (1), 4-6, 14-12 match tiebreaker in the doubles final.
   Of Young's eight career Challenger singles titles, six have come in California. The Atlanta resident also won the Sacramento Challenger in 2008, the last year it was held at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club before moving to Natomas. He is the first two-time singles champion of the 9-year-old tournament.
   "I'm a lot better player (now), a lot more mature, stronger, a little faster, more experienced," said Young, who indeed seems less volatile. "I was good then, I'm pretty good now, so I'm just happy I'm improving."
   The future of the Sacramento Challenger, which began in 2005, is uncertain after Deepal Wannakuwatte withdrew as the title sponsor in August. The United States Tennis Association provided the full purse for one year only, according to Challenger tournament director Brian Martinez.
   Wannakuwatte, who owns a medical supply company based in West Sacramento, said he's focusing on rebuilding the Sacramento Capitals. The co-owner of the World TeamTennis franchise with Ramey Osborne added that he might return as the Challenger title sponsor next year. Martinez said other parties are interested but would not identify them.
   Young, who's listed at 6 feet (1.83 meters) but appears three inches (7.6 centimeters) shorter in an era of power, has failed to achieve the stardom forecast for him as a junior. When John McEnroe, another American left-hander, saw Young play at 10 years old, the legend said, "He's the first player I've seen who has hands like me."
   But Young has mostly struggled since turning pro at the almost unheard-of age -- for a boy -- of 14. He finally reached a career-high No. 38 in the world in February 2012 but then went into a tailspin. Playing at the top level of the sport, he lost in the first round of 16 consecutive tournaments and went 5-24 for the year.
   Playing mostly Challengers, equivalent to Triple A in baseball, this year, Young rebounded from No. 202 in February to No. 125 entering the Sacramento Challenger. He will jump to approximately No. 100 when the new weekly rankings are released Monday.
   "It's big," Young said of winning the Sacramento title, which was worth $14,400. "I think I'm closer to the top 100. That's my goal. I want to make the Australian Open main draw (in January) and not have to go through qualies Down Under. That's pretty much what this is, to get me to that level. It's a steppingstone."
   Smyczek, who reached the third round of the recent U.S. Open as the last American man standing, will improve from No. 100 to a career high of about No. 90.
   The 25-year-old resident of Tampa, Fla., lamented that he "went away from my game plan a little bit" against Young after leading 5-3 in the first set.
   "I had chances in the 5-3 game and felt I could have broken him there and didn't capitalize," said Smyczek, who had lost to Young 6-3, 6-2 in the Napa semifinals. "Then (serving in) the 5-4 game, I just let a little of the pressure get to me and abandoned what I was doing. But he played a great match after that, and I just had a little trouble keeping up with him."
   Smyczek, generously listed at 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters), elaborated on his game plan.
   "It just seemed like the more I did with the ball, the better he handled it, so I was trying to slow-ball him a little bit," he said. "I'll just have to go back to the drawing board and the next time I play him try something else."
   Following are links to the complete Sacramento Challenger singles and doubles draws:
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/singles_draw291.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/doubles_draw292.PDF
   Here are links to the qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Monday's schedule in the $100,000 First Republic Bank Tiburon Challenger at the Tiburon Peninsula Club:
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/qualifying_draw291.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/singles_draw293.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/doubles_draw294.PDF

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