In 16 years as a touring pro, Radek Stepanek had never faced Donald Young, a young American whose promise has been heralded since 2004.
But when the two met Saturday for a place in the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, the 32-year-old Stepanek knew precisely how to dismantle Young's game and quash the budding confidence the 22-year-old had gained by stringing together four victories in an ATP tournament for the first time.
Aware that Young had faced a steady diet of baseline sluggers en route to his first ATP semifinal, Stepanek charged the net 20 times to disrupt his opponent's rhythm and won the point on 14.
Aware that the left-handed Young liked to slice his second serve wide to yank opponents out of position, Stepanek stood inside the baseline to cut off the angle.
And sensing Young grow more frustrated with each backhand he hit into the net, Stepanek increased the pressure, seized the upper hand early on and rolled to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
"I got out on top of him and had the control of the match in my hands," Stepanek said.
The victory sends Stepanek to today's Legg Mason final, where he'll face top-seeded Gael Monfils of France or 2007 runner-up John Isner, who were to meet in Saturday's second semifinal.
Young, for his part, sought to accentuate the positive in his postmatch interview. He's expected to climb nearly 40 spots in the rankings as a result of his semifinal showing at the Legg Mason, from No. 128 to No. 89, when the standings are tabulated Monday.
"I would have like to have played better today and gone further and see how it would have turned out," said Young, whose ATP record was 19-53 entering the tournament. "To win four rounds and get to the semis, for me, is a positive and a triumph. Hopefully, it's the first of many."
But asked to analyze what hadn't gone right for him against the 54th-ranked Stepanek, Young tended to place responsible elsewhere — rather than on himself.
"Obviously, he's a veteran, 10 years my senior," said Young. "He has played longer than me. He took me out of my game. He pretty much played different. He attacked. He didn't really let me get set into the way I had been playing."
Ideally, that will be among the lessons Young will take away from his experience in Washington: Successful players craft game plans to do precisely that (take opponents out of their comfort zone), and he needs to be prepared for it.
Moreover, veteran players study their opponents for any vulnerability or tendency, so they can exploit it.
Asked what he knew of Young's game going into their first meeting, Stepanek said he had watched several of his matches this week, as well as watched him play on the grass at Eastbourne, England. And even though he was in the training room Friday, Stepanek watched Young's quarterfinal against Marcos Baghdatis.
Such preparation went a long way toward Stepanek's victory Saturday.
The Czech is hardly physically imposing, at 6 feet 1 and 167 pounds. And he doesn't have a jaw-dropping weapon on the court. But he prepares well and doesn't beat himself by rushing shots or overhitting his serve or groundstrokes.
Too many times Saturday, Young did both. He committed 29 errors on his backhand alone (seven unforced, 22 forced). And he won the point just 47percent of the time on his second serve, getting broken three times.
"I tried to start putting a few more balls in play and not going for as much," Young said, asked of his second-set adjustments. "I wasn't able to do everything I wanted."
Note: In the first of two doubles semifinals Saturday, Michael Llodra of France and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia defeated the Brazilian tandem of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares, 6-7 (8-6), 7-6 (9-7), 10-8.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun