Tennis: Mikhail Youzhny's cries of agony
LONDON - He might have raised a few disapproving eyebrows among Wimbledon's head honchos but nobody would have blamed a tortured Mikhail Youzhny if he had chosen to use his racket end to scrape "Help Me!" into the hallowed Centre Court turf.
After all, he is no stranger to conveying his innermost thoughts with his on-court artwork.
Thirty two days after scratching the word "SORRY!" into Roland Garros's red clay during a third-round bashing by David Ferrer, the Russian oddball found himself on the edge again after being on the receiving end of a royal thumping by six-times Wimbledon king Roger Federer.
If relaying a message by digging up Wimbledon's famous lawn had flashed through Youzhny's mind, he thought better of it. Which is just as well since Britain's Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were among those in the Royal Box.
Also in attendance were Wimbledon greats Rod Laver, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi and it was perhaps unsurprising that when Youzhny found himself two sets down, he turned to tennis royalty for help.
"I asked Andre what I have to do. I asked if he could help me. If I had a chance, I would have asked everybody, there were a lot of top players sitting there (in the Royal Box)," Youzhny told reporters with a wry smile after the 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 hammering.
"But Andre was sitting close so that's why I asked him. He knows how to beat Roger and how to play on grass [so I thought he would be my best bet].
"He said [something back] but it did not really help me because it was two sets too late. If we had played best of seven or nine or 11 [sets] ....," Youzhny added, his voice trailing off.
Agassi's words of wisdom certainly did not aid Youzhny as he promptly double-faulted to lose the game.
For those watching a majestic Federer in full flight, it was hard to imagine the result would have been any different even if they had played best of 11, 13 or even 15 sets.
It would simply have prolonged Youzhny's agony.
After losing the first set, Youzhny found himself 0-40 down in the first game of the second. When the Swiss sailed a forehand long, Youzhny yelped. When Federer steered his next service return wide, Youzhny barked. When Federer broke in the next point, Youzhny was muted.
It was a feeling all too familiar to one guest in the Royal Box. If anyone could feel Youzhny's pain, it was Mark Philippoussis - after all the Australian was the first of Federer's 16 grand slam final victims on the same stage in 2003.
On Wednesday, he was among 15,000 fans who, while marvelling at Federer's wizardry, would have wanted to go out and lend a helping hand to a player who ended up spending the changeovers with his head buried under a towel.
But tennis is a one-on-one combat sport and even when the going gets tough, the players have no one to turn to.
Youzhny's heart started thumping in the fourth game of the third set when he earned two break points, which if he had convert them would have drawn him level at 2-2.
A forehand error scuppered the first opportunity and a service return into the net took care of the next, prompting a wildly gesticulating Youzhny to let out a roar that went on, and on and on.
"I yelled in Russian many times, wondering why the hell the ball stopped on my side and did not roll over to his side," a laughing Youzhny said.
Danger over, Federer slammed the door shut in 91 spell-binding minutes to take his place in a record 32nd grand slam semi-final.
Recalling the days when he used to go "completely nuts on the tennis court", the Swiss was sympathetic to Youzhny's plight.
"Mikhail is a great guy. He's always a great fight out there," said Federer. "You could see it with his outbursts, trying to get some energy going and just getting pumped up a bit. It was pretty funny him speaking to the Royal Box, I thought."
As for Youzhny, he was left to wallow over his miserable 0-14 record against the Swiss.
"I hope so (that I can beat him one day). I can say it's still my dream. I think if I continue to play more, more and more against Roger, then maybe I'll have a chance to beat him," said Youzhny, whose losing streak against Federer is now into a 12th year.
"I don't wake up every morning thinking that one day I can beat Roger." — Reuters
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