Almost out of nowhere, Donald Young is into the third round at a Grand Slam event.
The one-time American prodigy achieved his best result at the Australian Open with victory over 24th seed Andreas Seppi on a brutally hot Thursday at Melbourne Park, his 6-4 2-6 6-3 4-6 7-5 victory sending him beyond the second round of a major for the first time in two-and-a-half years.
Arguably, it was that very sapping heat that kept him alive – after dropping the fourth set despite holding a match-winning lead, the tournament’s Extreme Heat Policy was enacted, suspending play for more than three hours and allowing Young to cool down, regroup, and return energised for the fifth.
Young, an Australian Open junior winner and youngest-ever year-end junior No.1, reached the fourth round of the US Open in 2011 and finished that year inside the top 40, appearing poised to make good on his highly-regarded talent.
What followed was a season that even the most resilient of pros would want to banish permanently from the memory bank. He went 5-24 in 2012, a record that included a 17-match losing streak spanning six months. Although he sneaked back inside the top 100 late in 2013 after success at Challenger events, wins at tour-level remained elusive.
With the victory, Young progresses to a third-round meeting with No.16 seed Kei Nishikori after holding his increasingly shaky nerve to see off the challenge of the gritty Seppi.
The American was the early aggressor, threatening to gain the first break of the match in the fourth game before Seppi served his way out of trouble.
Ceaselessly attacking, Young advanced on the net 16 times in the opening stanza. Whenever passed or after erring, negative body language ensued, but he kept his composure well enough and was finally rewarded for the chances he kept creating, breaking serve on his third set point to take an early lead.
Seppi showed a remarkable ability to bounce back from such a setback in trying conditions.
He broke serve in the very next game, his steadiness and consistency wearing on the increasingly impatient and despondent Young. Soon down 5-2 and 30-0, the 24-year-old attempted a drop shot off a return which didn’t even reach the net, and watched as an ace flew by that helped Seppi level at a set apiece.
Young opened the third set with a double fault and an error, and shortly after produced his 10th double fault for the match, yet he somehow refocused and settled.
The set progressed on serve until the eighth game, when Seppi lost all concentration to dish up a double fault and two backhand errors. It proved a costly lapse – Young broke serve to lead 5-3, and later smashed an overhead winner to pocket the third.
One audible obscenity warning and several errors later, Seppi was soon down 3-1, his Australian Open 2014 campaign just a few games away from ending.
But Young gave him a lifeline. Visibly tightening in the sixth game, the American shanked three forehands well out to eventually surrender his serve, and although he steadied and reached 0-40 at 4-4, he again collapsed into errors and allowed Seppi to hold.
A missed volley and a forehand error in the next game handed the Italian the break, and the fourth set.
Games followed serve in the fifth when the men returned to court after 6pm until Seppi made a mess of the ninth game, double-faulting three times in a row to hand Young the break.
What followed was a study in sports psychology – the American couldn’t find the court when serving for the match, dishing up four straight errors to hand the break straight back to his opponent.
But Young’s desperate retrieving on break point in the 11th game elicited a surprise error from the Italian, and when presented with another chance to serve for the match, Young played far more positively, belting a forehand winner up the line for match point, and celebrating wildly when Seppi pushed a final backhand wide.