Wimbledon 2013: Sullen Mikhail Youzhny and his fierce verbal volleys block Andy Murray's way
Andy Murray's next opponent is Russian rather than Serbian but there is something physically and temperamentally of Nemanja Vidic about Mikhail Mikhailovich Youzhny. Like the Manchester United defender, he may well be a terribly nice chap underneath, but the message that comes through is: do not be tempted to take liberties.
The image stems from more than just Muscovite stereotyping. With his close-cropped hair and glower, he can be a forbidding figure, not averse to playing the role by performing a favourite victory salute that would surely be seen on Centre Court tomorrow if he were to defeat the No 2 seed: it involves saluting the crowd while placing the racket on his head in lieu of the cap that Russian military protocol demands.
In the brief period out on Court Two yesterday when his iron grip on the match against Viktor Troicki seemed to be loosening, there were a couple of self-disgusted verbal volleys every bit as powerful as those that flew from his forehand. Had Troicki, as seemed likely, been able to halve his arrears by taking the third set, the famous Youzhny temperament might even have been seen at its worst. Instead, he suddenly composed himself to win three games in a row and wrap up the match 6-4 6-4 7-5, finishing with the flourish of an ace. The sort of racket-smashing he had indulged in at the French Open – "bad luck for racket, bad luck for me, because I still lost" – proved unnecessary.
Although he has lost both previous matches with Murray, the prospect of a third, this time on British turf, clearly leaves him less than terrified. "Don't worry, I will sleep normal," he growled. "It's normal when you play against a guy who is [from] the same country. I think everybody will be [cheering] for Andy, but not against me."
The 20th seed, reaching the round of 16 here for the third successive year, is a serious player, with five years more experience than Murray, and a full quarter of a century of hitting tennis balls behind him, since he began playing at the age of six in his native Moscow. Winning a second round match against the young Canadian Vasek Pospisil after trailing 2-4 in the final set confirmed that he is nobody's pushover.
And if he beats him...
Quarter-final (Wednesday): Kenny de Schepper or Fernando Verdasco
There would be a left-handed opponent in either the experienced Spaniard Verdasco, who put out Ernests Gulbis or De Schepper, ranked 26 places below him at No 80. Meeting the winner would be as good as Murray could hope for in a Grand Slam quarter-final, even if he insists that losing so many seeds in the bottom half of the draw has put added pressure on him.
And if he beats him...
Semi-final (Friday): Jerzy Janowicz (seeded 24)?
The 6ft 8in Pole has a serve to match his height, which proved too much for a higher seed, Nicolas Almagro, in Friday's third round. Has not dropped a set here against any opponent, including Britain's Kyle Edmund, whom he defeated in the first round. "He hits the ball really hard," Edmund said. It would still be a shock if he were able to repeat last year's victory over Murray at the Paris ATP Masters.
And if he beats him...
Final (Sunday): Novak Djokovic (seeded 1)?
Tommy Haas, Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer are all left in the top half of the draw but Djokovic would be expected to see off any of them and reach his second Wimbledon final in three years. The Serb is a long-time friend of Murray, against whom he has an 11-7 record. But Murray did defeat the world No 1 in the US Open final last September to secure his first Grand Slam victory.
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