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Victory is piece of cake for birthday boy Youzhny

Mikhail Youzhny's birthday cake
by Sarah Edworthy
Monday 25 June 2012

Congratulations to Mikhail Youzhny on his 30th birthday. To mark the occasion the No.26 seed was presented with a stunning birthday cake – Victoria sponge with buttercream and strawberry jam filling – decorated in Wimbledon colours with a mass of purple and green ribbons, iced sugar lettering, starry ornaments and glitter.

After listening to a rendition of Happy Birthday in English, ‘Mischa’ gamely blew out the candles, forgot to make a wish, so went through the process again, made a wish (to win Wimbledon) and asked where the champagne was.

“You are giving me a cake like a kid,” he joked, sensitive perhaps to reaching that milestone age of the Big Three-O. “I think we are missing something…”

The player known for his trademark military salute and fighting spirit must have looked at today’s Order of Play and had a feeling of déjà vu – or уже видели, as I’m reliably informed it translates into Russian. Another year, another Wimbledon, another birthday fixture on Court 18.

For the third consecutive year, Youzhny walked out onto the show court to take on the challenge of playing a Grand Slam singles match on the date of birth he shares with his late father, Mikhail Youzhny Sr. In 2010, it signalled a loss in the second round; last year it was a win – and today, it was a four-set victory over the 22-year-old
American Donald Young.

Having made his Wimbledon debut in 2001, Youzhny has had many birthdays here, but he does not find them easy. “It is not a day to celebrate because it is the same day as my father’s birthday,” he shrugged. “It is hard for me to play on June 25. I feel some kind of pressure. I have mixed emotions.” 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 (so that’s a 20th anniversary).

Youzhny is a popular member of the world tennis family. At the age of 13 he was a ballboy for a Russia – United States Davis Cup final in Moscow (there’s a cute photo of him posing with US team members Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and Todd Martin). He had excellent results as a junior and still, at the ancient age of 30, stands at No.33 in
the world rankings.

“Thirty feels no different to yesterday when I was 29, and no different to when I was 24 or 25,” he said, slicing and doling out huge wedges of cake. “Except this is the first year I have been given a cake at Wimbledon!”

And that could be a good omen. Eight times Rafa Nadal has celebrated his birthday at Roland Garros and been presented with a cake… and gone on to win seven times. Those who believe in the power of a birthday wish might like to find out the last time a No.26 seed reached a Grand Slam final and let us know.

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