Donald Young's 22nd birthday was a little more than a week ago, and his tennis career has not taken off the way he — and plenty of others — figured it would when he turned pro as a teen in 2004.
Young is keeping at it, and adjusting his expectations along the way. The American ended a three-match losing streak by reeling off 14 consecutive points in one stretch and easily beating qualifier Artem Sitak of New Zealand 6-0, 6-3 Monday in the first round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
"The goals themselves haven't really changed. Just the timeline probably has changed a little bit," Young said after setting up a second-round match against fourth-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria. "This year, I want to get inside the top 50. ... Hopefully if I'm in the top 50 starting next year, maybe I'll move into the top 20."
Young is 128th now; his career-high ranking was 73rd in April 2008.
"When things don't happen when you expect, you can't just quit. You have to kind of reassess it," said Young, who was born in Chicago and now is based in Atlanta. "I'm trying a bunch of different things. Some things work. Some things won't work."
In other first-round action at the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open, former top-five player James Blake of the United States beat Tatsuma Ito of Japan 6-3, 6-3 in under an hour, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic came back for a 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-0 victory over Philipp Petzschner of Germany, Igor Kunitsyn of Russia eliminated Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5), Chris Guccione of Australia beat Alejandro Falla of Colombia 7-6 (3), 6-3, and qualifier Marinko Matosevic of Australia got past Richard Berankis of Lithuania 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-1.
Unlike Young, Blake tries not to keep too close an eye on his ranking. Never has, even as he's swung from No. 4 in 2006 to 135th at the end of 2010, and back up to 90th this week.
"If you're agonizing over it every day, it'd be like watching the stock market every five minutes," said Blake, the 2002 champion in Washington. "You'd go crazy. Going up-and-down, up-and-down. You look at it once in a while."
The 31-year-old Blake has invited Young to come train with him in Florida. Having hit years ago with stars such as Pete Sampras and Mats Wilander, Blake knows that sort of thing could be a boost for Young.
"I do think I have something to offer, in terms of showing him how I work, how hard I train, what I do to take care of my body, what I do to rest and stretch and all that kind of stuff that gets you ready to play on tour," Blake said. "I think it might help him to be around guys like myself, Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish."
Those top two American men in the rankings are skipping the tournament: No. 8 Fish's withdrawal was announced Monday; No. 12 Roddick's was announced last week. Fish cited a bruised right heel. Roddick has a side muscle injury.
Fish was replaced in Washington's draw by Wayne Odesnik, who lost in qualifying. Odesnik returned to action in January after serving a one-year suspension because Australian customs officers discovered human growth hormone in his bag when he arrived in that country for a tournament.
In the second round at Washington, Odesnik will face the 54th-ranked Stepanek.
Tuesday's schedule includes Blake against defending champion David Nalbandian; 19-year-old American Ryan Harrison — who is coming off consecutive semifinal appearances at ATP tournaments — and 11th-seeded John Isner.
Young, who is coached by his parents, said his relationship with the U.S. Tennis Association is "back to the way it was," after a dustup in April, when he posted an obscenity-laced message on Twitter criticizing the USTA.
As to whether he'll be tweeting any time soon, Young laughed and replied: "Definitely not."
On Monday, Young didn't face any break points and broke Sitak four times. Young broke at love for a 5-3 lead in the second set, then served it out, hitting a 113 mph ace to earn match point, which he converted with an overhead winner.
"I served well and tried to stay pretty aggressive," Young said. "It's the first match I've won in a couple, so (it's) good to get the win."
Not that he was ready to place too much stock in this victory. His opponent, after all, is ranked only 387th.
Here is one indication of how unheralded Sitak is: The prematch graphic on the in-house TV feed, shown on screens in suites and elsewhere around the grounds, featured a photo of Young, but a drawing of a tennis racket where Sitak's picture should have been.
And here's another indication: The ATP's official website lists which hand Sitak plays tennis with as "unknown." (For the record: He's right-handed.)