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Former Tennis Prodigy Young Is Getting Old

Monday, 31 Aug 2009 | 6:27 PM ET

Five years ago, ESPN dispatched me to Lexington, Ky., to see this 15-year-old tennis prodigy named Donald Young, the kid who no one could beat.

Young was set to turn pro, cash in on deals with Nike and Head and take the tennis world by storm.

Today, five years and three weeks later, I'm among the throng of reporters who are packed into Interview Room 3 on the grounds of the US Open, most writing the "Death of A Prodigy" story.

Young isn't saying it's over. He says he can be successful again if he can crack the top 100. He says he lost in the first round to No. 14 seed Tommy Robredo because he made a couple mistakes.

But "can't miss" stars never retire.

They just fade away when the foundation that built them up crumbles around them.

Young is only 20, but he's up against the clock. Time says he shouldn't have to win qualifiers to get into the main draw anymore. Time says that, by now, borderline tennis fans should know his face and be asking for his autograph.

There are the physical reminders too. Like the letter Young said he got before the US Open stating that he wouldn't be receiving wildcards into the main draw as long as he was still under the tutelage of his parents.

He still has a Nike contract. But one look at his shoes and any novice can tell it's not the newest "sneak" to hit the court. The dirt and the scratches show just how far he is from a guy like Roger Federer, whose footwear is pristine every time he is seen in public.

Coming off his first round loss to Robredo, Donald Young is wearing an Arizona State T-shirt presumably because that's what he put in his bag, not because his contract stipulates it.

I won't ever forget the optimism in Young's eyes when he talked about his future on the night we met in August 2004. It was a lot different from his eyes and body language in Room 3 today as the reporters' questions suggested that they thought his playing obituary was near.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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