In 2001, Mikhail Youzhny walked forward onto the Australian Open court for his first Grand Slam match, just as he would for the next 17 years at the top tennis tournaments around the world. But in his final Grand Slam match on Tuesday, Youzhny walked backward off Court 6 at the United States Open.
It was not performance art, or an intentional act of symbolism. Youzhny, cramping terribly, was forced to withdraw from his first-round match against Marcos Baghdatis. An athletic trainer asked Youzhny to walk backward to avoid more strain on his quadriceps.
By exiting that way, Youzhny, a 36-year-old Russian, had a chance to look up and wave at his supporters, who stood and applauded a player whose distinguished career was coming to a close.