MIKHAIL Youzhny has the intimidating bulk of a nightclub bouncer, and he has a scarily sizeable brain as well. In fact, we should really call him Doctor Youzhny, as he has a PhD in sports psychology.
The topic of Youzhny’s dissertation was the behaviour of players on the tennis court. Not just any old tennis players either, but ones of direct relevance to his own career – including his opponent in today’s fourth round, Andy Murray.
“When I finished university, my coach and another guy said to me I should maybe start to do something like this, because I had more free time,” Youzhny said. “Usually in Russia it takes three years to do something like this, but I did not hurry, I only did it 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 game with them. It was quite interesting to analyse not only your own matches but other players’ matches against other players. You see one here play like this and then in another game he plays a different way. It’s like chess.”
Murray was one of the players Youzhny studied for the PhD, but the No 20 knows that – unlike in chess – players do not conform to strict rules of behaviour. Nonetheless, he thinks his assessment of other players can make a difference, especially in a tight match.
“I have done this with Murray, yes. It was a long time ago and I haven’t looked at him at this Wimbledon so far, but I know how he plays, what he has changed and it is really interesting what a new coach can bring to him. But I am not ready to talk about all of this right now – not before the match! Nothing is guaranteed. Just because you know he plays a certain way it doesn’t mean I know what he will do. But maybe at one moment it might help a little bit.
“It is very helpful, but in tennis everything changes a lot. Even if you played someone one month ago he will never play the same way again, because he will also try to change something.
“But it is interesting to see what he has changed and what you have changed and how things go, what helps you, what doesn’t help you, what he is doing different and what you are doing different. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of analysis, but I think it is really interesting. I think it is really interesting for coaches, and people who want to learn about tennis.
“Small things make a big difference, but at this level small differences can have really big power. If you can find a small difference then it is really nice. For some people if they don’t watch the matches and do this stuff they will never see how another player changes from year to year and match to match.”
Youzhny knows his opposite will be favourite this afternoon, and is convinced that Murray is a different player this year thanks to his experiences in 2012. “It will be not easy for me, because everybody will be supporting Andy,” he said. “But I don’t think they will be against me. Of course they want to see Andy going through, but I don’t think they are particularly against other players. I don’t think that happens at Wimbledon.
“It’s not Andy’s first year on the tour, it’s not his first year at Wimbledon.
“For him it was a problem he never played a final at Wimbledon. But now he has played in the final and he has won the Olympics. I think he is a great player and he knows what he has to do.”