WASHINGTON — Almost from the moment Donald Young turned pro as a precocious teen in 2004, people waited for him to make his mark in men’s tennis.
Seven years later, Young is a semifinalist at an ATP tournament for the first time.
The 22-year-old American stretched his career-best tour winning streak to four matches by beating No. 7-seeded Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 7-6 (4) Friday in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic quarterfinals. When it ended, Young dropped his racket on the blue court, pounded his right palm on his chest, then pulled a ball out of the pocket of his black shorts and threw it into the upper deck.
“For sure, the expectations were high. I didn’t meet them necessarily at the time other people had expected,” Young said. “But this is kind of close to around when I thought I would start playing well, for sure.”
The left-hander, who was born in Chicago and now is based in Atlanta, entered this hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open ranked 128th and with a 19-53 career record as a professional.
His run this week assures Young of returning to the top 100 in Monday’s ATP rankings; if he beats Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in Saturday’s semifinals, Young would surpass his previous high of 73rd.
“He’s very talented, but it’s a tough world out there,” 2006 Australian Open finalist Baghdatis said. “You have to keep on working. You have to stay with your feet on the ground and keep on working hard and fighting.”
Friday’s match was only Young’s second quarterfinal on the top men’s tennis circuit. He lost in that round at Memphis in 2008.
Young was asked why he’s been able to have success now.
“The difference? Honestly, I can’t put a finger on it,” he replied.
Then he paused briefly and changed direction.
“I can put a finger on it,” Young corrected himself. “It’s my attitude towards playing. I feel like I actually can do it. I’m going out there with the thought in mind before the match that I can do it, not with the hope of, ‘Oh, if I play well, maybe I can.’ That’s a big change.”
On the other side of the draw, No. 11-seeded John Isner of the United States reached his third consecutive ATP semifinal by beating No. 3 Viktor Troicki of Serbia 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1. Not known for a particularly effective return game, Isner managed to break Troicki three times in the third set.
Isner now faces top-seeded Gael Monfils of France or No. 6 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, who were to meet in Friday’s fourth quarterfinal.
Next up for Young is the 54th-ranked Stepanek, who eliminated No. 5-seeded Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-4, 6-4.
Young was the youngest quarterfinalist in the tournament, while the 32-year-old Stepanek — a former top-10 player — was the oldest.
Stepanek had lost three matches in a row to Verdasco. But this time, Stepanek saved seven of the eight break points he faced. He also volleyed well, winning the point on 21 of his 29 trips to the net.
While Young will be trying to reach his first ATP final, Stepanek will be aiming for his first of the season and eighth overall.
Young played aggressively Friday, looking for openings to rush to the net, where he won the point on 12 of 18 trips.
He won 10 consecutive points early in the first set to grab a 4-1 lead. Baghdatis lacked his usual verve — perhaps a result of being forced to play a pair of three-set matches Thursday — and put only 38 percent of his first serves in play.
“It’s not an excuse, but yeah, for sure, playing six sets yesterday was a tough day. I wasn’t 100 percent ready today,” said Baghdatis, the runner-up in Washington last year. “He played smart. He knew that I was a bit tired. … My hands were a bit tight. I couldn’t just hit the ball the way I was hitting it yesterday.”
Young closed the opening set strongly, serving it out with the help of his only two aces, including one that caught a line on the last point.
Baghdatis picked up his game considerably at the beginning of the second set. He won the first eight points, capped by an inside-out forehand winner that broke Young at love, en route to a 3-0 advantage.
Young, though, got back into the set, shortly after slapping a forehand into the net and admonishing himself by yelling, “Hit it!” Two points later, he broke Baghdatis by smacking a forehand winner down the line, then pumped his arms.
That was part of a four-game run by Young to go ahead 4-3, before Baghdatis broke back for 4-all.
Ahead 6-5, Baghdatis held three set points on Young’s serve — and thought that might have been a turning point.
“You never know. He’s a young kid. Maybe mentally he would give up a bit, just put his head down,” Baghdatis said. “But he didn’t give up.”
Indeed, Young saved all three of those set points.
And from 4-4 in the tiebreaker, he won the match’s last three points.
“I feel everybody clicks at their own time. The light comes on in everybody’s due time,” Young said. “And I feel like hopefully my light is coming on, so we’ll see how it goes.”