“I can say I had a great career. I never thought I could play until 2018 and I can play at a high level,” Youzhny told ATPWorldTour.com.
“I was one of the youngest guys from my age who went into the Top 100 and from all the times, I was at a high level. All the time I can say I was a professional, that’s why I maybe stayed later in the tennis career.”
Starting to write an article about a tennis-player that I have been watching almost his entire career, a tennis-player that is now retired, that is a hard thing to do. A hard thing? You might ask. Yes! It is hard because he has done so much in his 20 years of pro-tennis, but also hard because it makes you feel old and you can feel the time passing by.
This is my first article about any player, and to be honest, I am pretty sad and sorry that I have, sort of, to do it. You will read something about Youzhny everywhere these days, and this article is meant to keep his memory alive despite retiring.
Mikhail Youzhny was born on 25th June 1982 in Moskow, Russia to Mikhail, a Soviet army colonel and Lubov, a professional tennis player. He has started playing tennis at age 6 and turned pro at age 17. It was his father who had steered him and older brother Andrei into tennis and sacrificed his career in the Soviet army to support them; it was because of his father that Boris Sobkin became his coach at the age of 10.
At the age of 13, he was a ballboy for a Russia – United States Davis Cup final in Moscow. His juniors career brought him 3 doubles titles and a runner-up title, and one singles title and 1 runner-up (Australian Open Final in 1999), having a decent record in the 4 years of juniors activity (45W-23L in singles and 28W-16L in doubles) and reached a career high of #20 in those junior rankings.
Playing Style, Coaching and equipment
Talking about Mikhail Youzhny, one has to mention the powerful and consistent groundstrokes on both sides, combined with the deadly accurate backhand slice. However, while his backhand slice was a good defensive weapon, his main attacking weapon was his one-handed backhand hit with topspin, which he used successfully cross-angled, but down-the-line too.
He used as backhand grip around 3/4 of the way from Continental toward Modified Eastern. His grip is close enough to Modified Eastern to allow him to hit topspin with reasonable comfort, but most players would hit stronger topspin with a grip right on Modified Eastern or closer to Full Eastern. Youzhny’s backhand grip would work well for the slice, but it changes to an Eastern forehand grip for his slice.
According to The New York Times columnist Christopher Clarley, Youzhny’s one-handed backhand was one of the more unusual ones on tour, hit with a “free left arm accompanying his right arm as he swings through the ball.”
He was also noted for his good court sense and often used drop shots to mix up his game, and he is very talented at volleying, not surprisingly those great doubles results.
Youzhny was good on all surfaces and was noted for his all-court game and was noted for his ability to be able to change surfaces quickly without difficulty. However, his favorite surface was hard indoors.
Youzhny was known on tour for his post-match military salute at the end of the match. Honoring his late father, Youzhny placed his racquet on his head while saluting the crowd instead of the hat that Russian military protocol dictates.
Boris Sobkin was Youzhny’s coach since the age of 10 because of Youzhny’s father’s interference, while his fitness trainer is Oleg Mosiakov. Youzhny wore Adidas clothing and Barricade 7.0 shoes and used a Head Graphene XT Extreme Pro racquet.
Mikhail’s first professional match was in Russia, on hard courts, against #589 Denis Glazov, in 1998. He lost that match from set up, 5-7 6-3 6-2, but everybody could have seen the talent and potential this young lad had. During 1998 he managed to reach a quarter-final in Russia F2, which was a great result considering he was there a wild card.
Mikhail started playing regularly in on the pro-circuit in 1999, and during August (as a 17 years-old youngster) he managed to win his first two ITF titles WITHOUT DROPPING A SET:
– Belarus F1 on indoors carpet, defeating #593 Michael Llodra (who will be in the next years a top player too, career high of #21, 5 singles titles and 26 doubles titles, from which 3 Slam doubles titles)
– Russia F2 on hard, defeating #894 Ben Qiang Zhu
October came and he won another 2 ITF titles:
– Great Britain F10 on hard, defeating #568 Tom Spinks
– Great Britain F11 on hard, defeating Helge Koll Frafjord
It was clear he was too good for the ITF level (32-14 record for the 18 months spent on this level) and this is where he did the transition to the Challenger level, without playing an ITF match since.
In his first Challenger even he managed to get to the QF of Nuembrecht CH in November 1999, losing to #114 Martin Damm but also winning against #55 Jeff Tarango during that week.
The year 2000 was another transition year for young Youzhny, now from Challenger level to ATP level. This year he reached his first Challenger final (Cherbourg CH) and won his first Challenger title funny enough, on clay(Samarkand CH).
Notable wins during this season were on ATP level, in Moskow, where he managed to defeat #36 Fabrice Santoro and #60 Thomas Johansson, reaching his first ATP quarter-final (lost to #35 Marc Rosset). This year he faced for the first time, GOAT-to-became, Roger Federer (#29 at the time), to whom he lost 5-7 6-4 6-3 in Stockholm.
At the age of 18, the Russian youngster was saying goodbye to the Challenger level and started grinding the ATP level, also breaking the top 100 for the first time (after the wins in Australian Open over #115 Diaz and #62 Zabaleta). He then managed to reach the SF of Copenhagen where he lost to #47 Vinciguerra a 3-set battle. During 2001 he represented for the first time Russia in Davis Cup, losing 3-0 to #5 Magnus Norman, and 2-1 to #25 Thomas Johansson in a dead-rubber match. Reaching his first Masters R16 came in the next week. His first R16 in a Slam came the same year, in Wimbledon, having defeated #31 Voltchkov, #69 Dupuis, and #25 Santoro, just to lose in 4 sets to #10 Pat Rafter (runner-up in that year). He ends the year with a 20-21 record, all matches played on ATP level and Davis Cup.
The year 2002 is a break-through year for young Youzhny, as he manages to win his first ATP title in Stuttgart, on clay, defeating #19 Canas in the final, but also winning his first match against a top-10 opponent, in #7 Tommy Haas, in Munich. He ends the year with a 31-24 record, a final in St. Petersburg, lost to #7 Grosjean, and a 5-set win in Davis Cup against #36 Mathieu. At the end of 2002, he manages to reach his all-time high ranking of #32.
2003 and 2004
The year 2003 brings Mikhail a SF in Doha, a R16 in Australian Open, a SF in Halle (lost another 3-setter to Federer), a SF in Lyon and a 29-28 record for the year. He managed to gather a couple of more top-10 wins, all 4 wins to Jiri Novak (as #7, #10, #10, and #9).
In 2004 Mikhail manages to become a stable ATP player, winning constantly matches against top-10 opponents (#6 Schuettler, #4 Coria, #9 Nalbandian, and #8 Henman). HIs first top-5 win comes this year too, in the first round of Dubai, against #4 Guillermo Coria. He manages to win his second ATP title too, in St. Petersburg, defeating Karol Beck in the final. He ended the year with a 42-27 (61%) record.
2005 and 2006
Most notable results of 2005 were the 5-set loss in Australian Open against Rafael Nadal and QF in Cincinnati lost against Roddick. He ends the year with a 23-23 (50%) record. In 2006 Mikhail ends 2006 with a 25-21 (54%) record, but this year brings him his first Slam semi-final in US-Open, where he managed two top-5 wins too, against #5 Robredo, and #2 Rafa Nadal. He managed to win 1 doubles title (along with Max Mirnyi) and reach 2 more doubles finals.
2007 and 2008
The year ’07 starts very good with another ATP trophy (1st 500 ATP title) in Rotterdam (indoors), winning against #8 Ljubicic, and a runner-up in Dubai (lost to #1 Federer), winning against #2 Nadal in the QF too. 2007 is set to become Youzhny’s most successful year (total wins) with a 50-24 (68%) record.
2008 will leave a mark on Russian’s career as it’s the year where he settles the biggest win of his career (6-0 6-1 over #2 Nadal in the Chennai Final), and win his 4th ATP title. Another top-5 win, over #4 Davydenko, will boost him into the QF of Australian Open. He ends the year with a 28-22 (56%) record. This year he managed to get his highest ranking No. 8 (28 January 2008)! He won 2 doubles titles in 2007 (along with Zimonjić and Kohlschreiber) and 2 doubles titles in 2008 (both along with Zverev).
2009 and 2010
These two years will be the best years of Youzhny’s career, as he wins 3 ATP Titles (Kremlin Cup, Munich, and Malaysian Open) and reaching another 6 finals.
2009 will have a record of 48-30 (62%), while 2010 43-19 (69%), 2010 being the best Youzhny year in the win % department.
In 2010 he managed to get to his 2nd and final Slam Semi-Final, where he lost to #1 Rafael Nadal. He won Queen’s doubles title along with Moodie in 2009, and Halle title along with Stakhovsky in 2010.
The first time in 5 years where Mikhail doesn’t manage to get at least to an ATP final, comes with nothing notable, but a set won against #3 Federer in Wimbledon and a record of 29-25 (54%). He still, somehow, won a doubles title in Dubai, along with Stakhovsky.
Fortune, in facing no Top-40 opponents, and some good form will bring the 8th singles title in Zagreb, defeating #97 Lukas Kacko in the final. He managed to win the doubles title of Zagreb too, along with Baghdatis. The year is set to continue in a good way, ending 2012 with a 33-21 (61%) record.
The last really good year of Youzhny’s career will bring him titles no. 9 and 10 (last singles titles), and another runner-up. He won against Haase in Swiss Open, and against Ferrer in Valencia (second ATP 500 title). The year ends on a rise with a 39-24 (62%) record.
These can be called the drop of Youzhny’s level and career, having not won a single title, neither reaching a final.
2014 ends with 18-23 (44%) record, and 2015 with 21-28 (43%) record. 2015 is the year Youzhny drops out of the top-100 for the first time in many years.
The year 2016 is the year Youzhny decides it’s time to step on the Challenger tour once again, where he wins 3 consecutive Challenger events to start 2016 (Bangkok Challenger x2, and Manila Challenger), getting again in the top-100 and getting some ATP main draw entries once again. He ends 2016 with a 34-20 (63%) record, but only 17-18 (49%) on ATP level.
2017 comes with a 31-28 (53%) all-level record, as he won another 2 Challenger events (in Ningbo and Ho Chi Minh, in October 2017), but only a 10-20 (33%) record on ATP level. It seems Youzhny has found a way to keep grinding the top-100, by playing and winning Challenger events. It is clear that his quality is too good for the Challenger level, but a bit bad for ATP level, which is really sad.
2018 is called the last season of the career of Mikhail Youzhny and finishes in the same bad ATP record we got used to in the past years, 7-18 (28%). He needs to play a couple of qualification matches in each tournament to get his entry but doesn’t manage to win consistently on the ATP Level.
His last tournament was played in St. Petersburg, his most successful tournament on ATP level, reaching 3 finals, and winning 1 title. Unfortunately, he lost to Bautista-Agut (6)6-7 6-3 3-6 in the R16, despite having 2 set points in the 1st set and missing 2 BPs in the 3rd at 3-3 40-15*. Kind of ironically to lose your last match in this way, being up in all 3 sets and still losing.
Youzhny participated in three Olympics: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
In Athens, he reached the quarterfinals and ended up losing to silver medalist Mardy Fish. He also played doubles in Athens, partnering up with Marat Safin, but ended up losing to Bob and Mike Bryan in the first round.
In Beijing, Youzhny reached the third round but lost to Novak Djokovic. In the doubles competition, he and Dmitry Tursunov reached the second round, losing to eventual champions Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in two sets.
In London, he lost in the first round to Julien Benneteau. At the doubles he was more successful; he and his partner Nikolay Davydenko reached the second round, losing in two tiebreaks to Bob and Mike Bryan. In the mixed doubles, however, he and teammate Elena Vesnina lost in the first round in straight sets to the Argentine team of Gisela Dulko and Juan Martin Del Potro.
He played 11 years for Russia in Davis Cup, gathering wins in singles over C. Rochus, Mathieu, Stepanek, Ratiwana, Llodra, Blake, Gasquet, Petzschner, Zimonjic, Hanescu, Bopanna, Devvarman, Leo Mayer, Mello, and Bellucci. Combined with that singles record he managed to win against Marach/Peya, Calleri/Nalbandian, Sluiter/Van Lottum, and Garcia/Gonzalez. He won the Davis Cup in 2002 and 2006 (in 2002 he won the deciding match against Mathieu, coming from 0-2 down to win 3-6 2-6 6-3 7-5 6-4, and in 2012 he won the doubles match along with Tursunov against the Argentines).
“If you really want to do something, and you give 100 percent of your time to this goal, you’ll have a chance to receive back from your investment,” Youzhny said.
As a summary of records in singles:
All-time, All level: 627-472 (57%)
Slams: 101-68 (60%)
Masters: 88-117 (43%)
All ATP: 499-416 (55%)
Qualifying ATP: 11-3 (79%)
Challengers: 66-30 (69%)
ITF Futures: 32-14 (70%)
Davis Cup: 15-11 (58%)
Most Match Wins In History By A Russian
Player | Record
1. Yevgeny Kafelnikov 609-306
2. Mikhail Youzhny 499-416
3. Nikolay Davydenko 482-329
4. Marat Safin 422-267
5. Andrei Chesnokov 344-259
Most ATP Match Wins In History
Rank | Player | Match | Wins
1. Jimmy Connors 1256
2. Roger Federer 1168
3. Ivan Lendl 1068
46. Mikhail Youzhny 499
Awards and personal life
Youzhny was awarded by the Russian government with the title “Honoured Master of Sports” in 2003 for his participation in Russia’s Davis Cup victory the previous year.
Youzhny began studying for a degree in philosophy at the University of Moscow in 2005, specializing in the philosophy and attitudes of tennis. He obtained his Ph.D. in December 2010. His thesis was entitled “Professional Tennis Players on the Court” and “was about other players and how they compared up against one another”.
When asked about his thesis, he said “I wrote it slowly when I had the time … You find out about other players and try to compare them with you. You look at what you have to do against them or what changes they may make before their matches or during your match with them.”
Youzhny married Yulia on 22 November 2008 in Moscow; the couple has two sons, Maxim born 4 December 2009 and Igor born 4 July 2012.
Opinions about Mikhail Youzhny
“Mikhail […] has one of the nicest and most efficient one-handed backhands on the tour. It seems a little bit unorthodox the way he holds his racquet, then [he] releases with two hands and in the end with one hand. But he’s a very talented player.”
“Incredible person, first of all. Him, his coach Boris as well, have been some of the kindest people to me since I broke out on tour[…] He’s always around, he always finds opportunities, creates opportunities for himself, plays well and he’s been a real pleasure to have on tour.”
“I remember him since I started on the tour, and that’s already quite a few years… He’s a guy who has been around for a while. He’s achieved a lot and he was always a very, very tough opponent for me.”
“When he was at his best form he was playing really well, beating top guys and was a Top 10 player at a time. He is a good example for Russian players. He won the Davis Cup two times. When he was younger, he was faster and hit flatter and more powerful, but he was always tough to beat. He and his coach, Boris, were always helping and following me, giving me good advice. He has been a great influence.”
”I saw him and my first question was always, ‘You’re still around? You’re still playing?’ He said, ‘Yeah, well I love this sport and it’s great.’…As you can see, he’s very competitive, but he also enjoys it.
“He was always a true team player, giving his all each and every time for the team,” he said. “We will really miss him.”
- Bloody match
This match was played at Sony Ericsson Open in Miami when Mikhail Youzhny, one of the players, created a ruckus on the court with his insane antic. During the third set of his match against the Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, the Russian player started to hit his racquet against his head after a making a backhand unforced error in a crucial point, as he was having the break point to tie the set on 5-5. At the end, Youzhny prevailed in the third set tie-break by seven points to five, but that blood on his face will be one of the most historical images forever.
The 27-seeded Russian scraped “SORRI” into the clay with his right foot in the middle of his 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 6 David Ferrer on Saturday.
“There was a lot of people. That’s why I write ‘sorry.’ Because I can’t show them a nice game,” Youzhny said. “The way we played in the beginning, it was not really interesting for people.”
“People in the stands may not have noticed, but I think I had to do this,” Youzhny said.
- Davis Cup 2002 Trophy and 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win over Mathieu
Tarpishev dropped the former World No.1 Yebgeny Kafelnikov, visibly unfit in the previous days, and lifted the spirit of 20-year-old Mikhail Louzhny, brought here as a practice hitter. A clash meant to define their respective careers in the coming years.
Never before had anyone recovered from two sets down to win a decisive fifth rubber in a Davis Cup final. ”The first two sets were not so good, but afterward I played like I can play” said Youzhny
- Youzhny defeats Nadal 6-0 6-1 in the Chennai Final
A gracious Youzhny said: “This victory is a present from Rafa to me. I didn’t win today, Rafa just lost the match because he couldn’t move well.”
“Rafa was not Rafa, I did not play against Rafa today,” the Russian said. “I have to thank Carlos for keeping him on the court for four hours last night.
“I had no injury, just wanted the trainer’s help in overcoming tiredness,” Nadal said.
“Maybe I was a bit tired after the long semifinal, but I lost the final because Mikhail played very well.” Nadal said.
- Youzhny had a beer from Tarpishev
During the 2007 Davis Cup match between Youzhny and Gasquet, Tarpishev saw that Youzhny was cramping heavily at score 6-2 6-3 6-7 5-7, and gave him a beer during the change-over… He eventually won the match 6-2 6-3 6-7 5-7 8-6.
- Youzhny for the Love of Tennis (via ATPWorldTour)
After winning 10 ATP titles, decided to play challengers after dropping out of the top-100. He won 6 Challenger titles during 2015 and 2016, winning 6/6 finals played.
Thanks for all the great memories, Misha!