07:18 PM GMT October 06, 2017
Quietly and precisely, #NextGenATP American Jared Donaldson has climbed the Emirates ATP Race To Milan this season.
The 20-year-old right-hander began the season in 17th place in the Race, which will determine seven of the eight 21-and-under players who compete at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
But this week, after making his second ATP World Tour quarter-final at the Chengdu Open (also 2017 Cincinnati), Donaldson is in sixth place, good enough to qualify for the inaugural event, to be held 7-11 November in Milan, if the Race ended today.
“The thing that has allowed me to make the biggest strides is lots of quality matches throughout the entire year. I have had a great deal of exposure to ATP World Tour-level matches, which has allowed me to be not only a better player but a more consistent player,” Donaldson said.
“My serve has become more consistent and allowed me to be more aggressive on my service games. I have also returned well these past few months, which has allowed me to break serve more often and more easily. My game is centered around playing offensive tennis, so the better I serve, the quicker I can go on the offensive on rallies, which allows me to play dictating tennis.”
The American fell short in his bid to reach his first ATP World Tour semi-final, losing to eventual Chengdu champion Denis Istomin. But this season has featured steady and consistent improvement all year for Donaldson, who has averted the traditional path of a young ATP World Tour player in many ways.
As a youth, Donaldson was your prototypical American tennis player: Big serve and big forehand. But his father, Courtney, knew Jared would have to develop more of his game if he wanted to have success outside the indoor courts of Rhode Island, where the family lived.
So 14-year-old Jared Donaldson moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and trained among the likes of current ATP World Tour Argentines Diego Schwartzman, Guido Pella and Horacio Zeballos. The training included a regular fitness session with Schwartzman, who's had his own breakout season this year, reaching a career-high No. 29 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
The experience showed Donaldson what it takes to compete amongst the best in the world. “I was able to see from a really young age how professionals trained, what they did for fitness, recovery, how they trained for tennis,” Donaldson said. “That was the most important thing I took, was how to work really hard at a young age.”
Look at Donaldson's coaching box for another example of how he's bypassed the typical path. In the past four years, as some players have cycled through coaches bi-annually, Donaldson has had only two sets of experts by his side.
For three years, Donaldson worked with former American pro Taylor Dent. But in December, Taylor and Phil Dent moved from California, where Donaldson lives, to Texas. So the #NextGenATP star began working with two other former American pros, three-time ATP World Tour titlist Jan-Michael Gambill and former World No. 7 Mardy Fish, who works with Donaldson through the USTA. Donaldson said he has benefited from the continuity.
“The good thing about high-level coaches who have played, they see the game very similar. So it wasn't like I went from Taylor telling me one thing and now JM and Mardy are telling me something completely different. It's been a really good transition. I think they've added a lot to my game. Incremental tweaks but they mean a lot,” Donaldson said.
In particular, they've focused on Donaldson's positioning on the court, he said. In the past, he tended to be more straight up and down when hitting, rather than lower to the ground so he could place the proper spin on the ball.
“JM has really pushed me to make good decisions on the court and to get lower, and just continue to work on my serve and my movement and everything. I think he's been a really good influence. And I think Mardy's been a really good influence,” Donaldson said.
The American hopes the work pays off with a trip to Milan next month, but the down-to-Earth Donaldson also knows he can control only what he can control.
“I'm just honoured to be part of a group of young players who are playing amazing,” he said. “Whether I make it or whether I don't, it would be really cool, I would love it... I just have to keep worrying about improving my game and trying to play good tennis. I feel like if I do that, I'm going to make it anyways.”