So I'm standing with Don and Ilona Young, parents of American tennis prodigy -- one-time tennis prodigy? -- Donald Young, who had just lost his first-round match at the U.S. Open.
Donald had finished a press conference in a small room with a handful of writers, answering questions about whether people should give up on him. And I told the parents this:
Patrick McEnroe says that you are the problem.
It's what McEnroe, head of the United States Tennis Association's player development program, had written in his book. And an agent from IMG, which works with McEnroe and has worked with Young, happened to be standing there. He said he felt the need to interrupt, that McEnroe would never say that, but only that the parents and USTA need to work together.
The Youngs said they hadn't seen the book, but would like to. Luckily, I had a copy about 100 feet away. Wait here. Be right back.
They waited. Then, they read. McEnroe wrote that all his coaches "reported the same thing: love the kid, the parents are a huge obstacle."
"It does say that," Ilona Young said.
They continued to read, to the part that says Young's father talked with McEnroe on the phone, saying his son can't find practice partners in minor league events because he's African-American.
"What!" Don Young said, still looking at the book. "He said that? OK, then. OK. You know what? Never happened."
"Never happened. I never spoke to Patrick. I didn't say that. That call never happened."
And thus continues the uneasy relationship between prodigy and the U.S. governing body charged with developing him. It is a two-way street of distrust, with both sides holding hands and holding their noses at the same time.
The handling of a prodigy is a touchy thing. So many different fingers come into the situation trying to touch the talent, and make the most of it. Others are trying to get something from it, too.
So if Young's handling is botched, which side is blowing it?
You go to a tournament, and only one player has his Mom and Dad hanging around everywhere he goes.
"Would you let your kid travel around the world by himself?" Don Sr. asked me.
My son is 11. Yours is 21.
On the other hand, would you turn your tennis prodigy over to the USTA? Look at the top young American players, and the ones coming up. They weren't developed by the USTA.
Young was a kid from the South Side of Chicago who, legend has it, somehow got John McEnroe to hit with him one day when the senior tour was in town. McEnroe supposedly ran to his agent at IMG and told him to sign this kid now.
Young became "The great hope for American tennis," as Patrick McEnroe wrote.
Next thing you knew, the Young family, hearing John McEnroe pump up their son every chance he could, signed on with an agent, and started putting Donald in pro tournaments at 15.
"Since I was 14, 15," Young said, "people expected me to be No. 1 in the world."
Why? Because of John McEnroe. His mouth is one big loose canon. There is no way to project an undersized young teen as a future star. But the media bought into McEnroe, and the parents bought in and Young had opportunities.
He turned pro and started getting crushed regularly. Today, at 21, he seems to mope on court when things go wrong. The losses might have beaten the spirit out of him.
By now, most people have given up on Young. When he was 18, the New York Times had already written him off as a failure.
"I don't know why anyone would give up on me when I'm 21 and in the top 100," Young said. "No one younger than me is ranked higher."
And those things were true. He is now ranked No. 105. But at the Open, he was the youngest player in the top 100, at No. 100.
But it's crunchtime now on Young's chances. His footwork is a problem and he doesn't fight hard enough. Still, his hands are among the best, and he has no glaring hole in an all-around game.
Top 50 someday? Yes. Top 20? Unlikely. But there is still time.
Last year, it seemed that the USTA had given up on Young. His ranking was not high enough to qualify for the U.S. Open, and the USTA didn't give him one of its wildcards, a free pass into the tournament. Young ended up getting in anyway by doing well in the qualifying tournament.
And after he lost in the first round, he told me he felt he hadn't gotten the wildcard as part of an ultimatum from the USTA. Young lives in Atlanta now and trains with his parents there. He said the USTA had sent him a letter telling him he had to leave his parents and get all his training from the USTA, or that he wouldn't get any more help at all.
Young said he told the USTA that he wouldn't abandon his family, that he wanted the USTA to be part of his coaching, but not all of it.
At the time, a USTA spokesman said that there had been a letter to the Youngs, "but there was no mention of his parents."
In his book, Hardcourt Confidential, Patrick McEnroe said he would never have told Young to abandon his parents, even though, he said, they are the "heart of the issue."
"What I did write in that letter is that we ... felt that we'd given the Youngs a lot of help over the years, and believe that for him to improve he needed to leave his hometown of Atlanta. He needed to be around full-time fitness trainers and real players, not high school kids."
Hold on. First, the USTA says the letter made no mention of Young's parents, and now McEnroe says the letter said he had to leave home?
McEnroe wrote that Young didn't get a wildcard because he wasn't playing well enough. So I asked Young about that.
"It's true I wasn't playing well last year," he said. "And then, the other thing, too."
What about the phone call? Does Don Sr. think Donald can't find practice partners at Challengers because he's black. Don Sr. said only that he didn't say anything like that to McEnroe. But Donald said he did have trouble finding practice partners at Challengers, and "I don't know what the reason is. It's not because I'm not good enough, because I've beaten them. Start X-ing off all the reasons why they won't practice me, and that (race) is one of the few ones that are left."
Well, maybe. But also, Young doesn't play the same power style you see on tour. Maybe the players don't see practicing with him as the best way to work against what they'll face in tournaments.
But do not disregard feelings of race issues, whether they are related to practice or not. Years ago, I wrote about American speedskater Shani Davis, who also is black. His mother had an even more acrimonious relationship with skating's governing body. She would fire off nasty emails with accusations of racism.
And much like Young, Davis was a black inner-city Chicago kid in a typically white, suburban sport. For Davis, that did lead to some distrust.
Well, Young started playing better early this year. But at Wimbledon, Ilona Young said, there was another falling out with the USTA.
"I don't want to say much because it is getting better," she said two weeks ago. "But I told them at Wimbledon that this wasn't going to happen anymore.
"In one place, all the American players are together, working together. And then Donald is by himself with his parents. That's not going to happen anymore."
The USTA did give Young the wildcard to the Open this year.
"It's pretty good right now," he said. "They arranged for someone to hit with (practice with), and a court, and had a coach out there."
Finally. And then last week, Patrick McEnroe, who is also the outgoing captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, announced that he would fill the final spot on the team this weekend with 18-year old phenom Ryan Harrison, who beat a top 25 player at the Open.
Young went to his Twitter account, saying he wants to know "why Harrison gets chosen for the 4 man davis cup team before me???"
Young was ranked No. 100. Harrison was 220. This summer, Young beat Harrison 6-3, 6-2 near Chicago.
"Patrick," Young said on Twitter. "Just please answer that for me."
And the relationship just bumps along.
E-mail me at email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch