Mikhail Youzhny breaks quarter-final curse

 

As a former US Open semi-finalist at raucous Flushing Meadows, the experienced Russian Mikhail Youzhny might be expected to know the difference between a Grand Slam tennis tournament and a library. During a hard-fought fourth-round victory yesterday by 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, however, he regularly complained about the noise from television interviews being undertaken on the roof of the adjacent broadcast centre.

The umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, sympathised, more than once using his microphone to ask for quiet up above, and Youzhny had his own back by frequently bellowing in frustration at his errors against an unseeded opponent who twice fought back from a set down to take the match into a long fifth set.

Eventually the Muscovite made it, to burst through a personal glass ceiling in which he had six times reached the last 16 here without ever making a quarter-final.

Last year, it was Roger Federer who halted Youzhny in the usual round and he will be strongly favoured to put out the 26th seed again when they meet on Wednesday: Youzhny has not won any of their 13 meetings. At this Wimbledon, he did, however, see off the eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic and he now follows distinguished compatriots in Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin in having made the last eight.

Istomin had also reached a milestone even before yesterday in becoming the first of his country's representatives to reach the last 16 at a Grand Slam tournament.

As world No 39, he has also reached a personal peak, having fully recovered from serious injury: he broke his leg in a car crash and was absent for two years.

Coached by his mother, who travels on the tour with him, sharing a hotel room to save money, he should at least be able to book two single rooms next time, having earned £75,000 as a fourth-round loser; Youhzny will make double that even if he bows the knee to Federer.

Istomin hit 16 aces to his opponent's 12 and had the better percentages on his first serve, which reached 129mph, but his weaker second tended to let him down.

The other statistic that jumped out was his record in converting break points – less than one in four compared to Youzhny's five out of eight. The Russian made use of the first of those possibilities to take a 4-2 lead in the first set, which he won 6-3 in 29 minutes.

Breaking again in the first game of the second set, he seemed to have the match under control but the pattern changed when the less demonstrative Istomin came to the net for two good winners to level matters at 4-4. Growing more confident whether on the baseline or coming in, he held to love to lead 6-5 and broke his man again when Youzhny netted on a second set point.

Youzhny then called for the trainer to deal with a blistered foot and, apparently more comfortable, came out and broke Istomin early in the third set when the Uzbek made a mess of a drop shot.

Play was briefly halted at 3-2 in the third with the court having grown a little damp, the umpire securing the agreement of both players to wait without the covers coming on before resuming.

When they did play again, Youzhny saved one break point but was otherwise untroubled in taking a two sets to one lead.

The fourth set went to a topsy-turvy tie-break in which there were six successive points against serve before Istomin clinched it as Youzhny drove a forehand wide.

And so to the longest set of all, lasting more than an hour, in which the Russian secured the crucial break and after it that coveted quarter-final place in his 12th appearance at the All England Club.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the powerful fifth seed, dropped the first set 6-4 to the 10th seed Mardy Fish before the rain came.

Fish, a quarter-finalist last year, is playing his first tournament since an operation in May to correct a heart problem.

Florian Mayer, seeded 31, was also a first-set winner against the 18th seed, Richard Gasquet, in another match that was suspended early in the second set.

Comments