By Jane Voigt
Tennis Channel — where champions live — shows a clip of Roger Federer explaining his love of the game and that, ‘some day that time will come where I will have to walk away.’ The camera lingers and Roger averts it slightly in an obviously emotional moment.
Does his 5-set loss to Ernests Gulbis (No. 18) today in round three of the 2014 French Open signal ‘that time’? No. But it accentuates how tough the competition has become and how Gulbis has improved. Scoreline: 67(5) 76(3) 62 46 63. Time on court: 3 hours 45 minutes.
Gulbis, who apologized to fans on Court Philippe Chatrier for beating their beloved Federer, is a wild man from Latvia. He was better known for antics off court than on court for the years between 2008 and today, the last time he occupied a quarterfinal berth at Roland Garros. However, the truly talented 25-year-old decided 20 months ago to stop smoking and partying, and re-dedicate himself to tennis.
Not only did Gulbis deny Federer his 10th consecutive quarterfinal in Paris, he ended another record held by the Suisse — never losing a 5-set match in the City of Lights. And it was through shear determination, which materialized as unending defense, huge serves, and lucky luck, and concentration that drove him to the finish.
Federer relayed his disappointment to the press, that he had his chances, and, I have “a lot of regrets here now but Gulbis did a good job of hanging around and coming back in the second set was crucial for him.”
Federer served to put a lock on the match in the second at 5-3. He was up two set points. Then a wiggy point and even wiggier overhead from the maestro, which Gulbis whacked back for a winner. The mental momentum shifted.
“I have some regrets about the smash because it was probably the moment when Ernests started to play so well,” tennisworlditalia.com reported on Twitter.
More controversy surfaced in the fourth set. With Federer up 5-2, Gulbis took a medical time out. But as Federer said later, “I went through the same thing with Tursinov. If rules allow you to do that then what can you do, there’s nothing much. [It’s] definitely something that hasn’t happened against me back-to-back. They go leave the court for treatment, come back, and you don’t know what has happened. So you guess it’s lower back, thigh, or groin. He didn’t look hurt in any way, but if you can use it might as well do it.”
In his defense, Gulbis sounded conciliatory, per The New York Times, that the medical time out was necessary. “I don’t like medical time outs,” he said. He had had a tear in his hamstring earlier in year and did not want to exacerbate the discomfort he felt today. And, he did not want to wait for the fifth set.
“It’s a big upset and a big win for me,” Gulbis said.
To whip himself in shape Gulbis hired Gunther Bresnik, after a series of coaches came and went. The Austrian has coached Boris Becker, Patrick McEnroe, Henri Leconte, and Dominic Thiem. Gulbis won Delray this spring, as a qualifier. His ranking went up accordingly. He has been undefeated in France, too.
“I have been playing well in France,” he said on court. “I have won tournaments in Marseille and Nice, hopefully Paris is next.”
Gulbis has not been past the third round of a slam in six years because of his inconsistency. Yet today his errors/unforced errors showed his improvement: 53/53 while Federer was 42/59.
Gulbis’s number-one asset is his serve. As they say, ‘he serves out of a tree.’ Not because he is a John Isner at six-nine, but because he projects himself upward to the ball. It’s one of the best service motions on tour.
Next for Gulbis is Tomas Berdych (No. 6). He defeated a lackluster Isner today, 64 64 64.
Gulbis is behind Berdych in their head-to-head, 2-4. Their only match this year was in Rotterdam on a hard court. Tomas won that semifinal match. But this is not the same Berdych or Gulbis. And, Bercych’s game is quite similar to Federer’s game, meaning Gulbis is in the rhythm. If he can keep his monkey business to a minimum — he only broke one racquet today and amended his fault by handing it to a child in the audience — he certainly could meet his child-hood friend, Novak Djokovic, in the semifinals. Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfred Tsonga at a fast clip today, 61 64 61. Novak also defeated Ernests in the 2008 quarterfinals. Game on.
Photo credits tennisclix.com