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By Erik Gudris | Sunday, July 8, 2018

Ernests Gulbis 2018 Wimbledon

Ernests Gulbis once again has fans asking where’s he been after reaching the Wimbledon second week

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Ernests Gulbis is a time traveler.

Not in the “Doctor Who” sense, mind you, with an alien spaceship capable of traveling through space and time. Although Gulbis, who is the son of a very wealthy Latvian businessman, once joked when asked by the press about his wealth. “Yes, I have a Learjet. And I have a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship." So he just might have a time machine.

How else can one explain a player, who drifts in and out of relevance every few years? Who can suddenly produce mesmerizing, stunning displays of tennis at any time? If, and only if, he is at full attention though. And then disappear (sort of). And then, when you least expect it, show up again and play the same kind of tennis that got him noticed several years ago.

Currently ranked No. 138 in the world, Gulbis, had to qualify for the main draw of this year’s Wimbledon. He was asked about going from the courts of Roehampton, which are notorious for not being the best courts out there along with having a lack of amenities, to beating the current World No. 3 Alexander Zverev 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 and if the last week had felt long or short.

Gulbis simply said, “Time is relative.”

Time, and if we are talking about the present, the past, and the future, all does seem to be the same for Gulbis. Once again, the charismatic Latvian finds himself back in in the conversation at a major. With his five set win over Zverev, the former top ten player is now into the second week of Wimbledon for the first time in his career.

So the natural question to ask, which the press did is, was “Where have you been?”

“You should follow my results,” Gulbis started. “I was talking to a lot of press during this time. It's not like I was somewhere completely out of zone. I just was struggling with some injuries. I was half a year completely out. I didn't play. It was last year.”

Gulbis may have been around, but tennis is notorious for being a sport where if a player is not winning at the highest stages, the majority of tennis watchers tend to forget them. Gulbis did spend most of 2017 injured and struggling for results. The start of 2018 wasn’t great either as Gulbis failed to win a main draw ATP match, until he qualified for Roland Garros and then reached the second round.

Waiting for Gulbis to breakthrough, and then when he does, wait and see what happens next, is nothing new.

Five years ago, I interviewed him in Montreal at the ATP 1000 event there. This, when he was age 24, was during his latest comeback after he’d fell out of the top 100. Gulbis in my interview described himself as “unpredictable”, which was a perfect adjective. 

Tennis fans, at least those that didn’t mind putting up with his mercurial temperament, kept waiting for Gulbis to settle down and finally have a real breakthrough that would prove his innate tennis ability wasn’t being wasted.

The next year, he did just that. Gulbis beat Roger Federer en route to reaching the Roland Garros semifinals for the first time. Finally!, the tennis world said, Gulbis is turning the corner and will now make the most use of his ability.

But then, that didn’t happen. For a lot of reasons. Some of which we know, some of which we don’t, which just adds to the Gulbis myth. Post 2014 French Open semifinals, Gulbis struggled to replicate that form.

He’d make some headway here and there, including a third round loss at last year’s Wimbledon to Novak Djokovic. There were also injuries that halted any momentum.

This year, Gulbis has played quite a few Challenger events. Playing Challengers five years ago was something Gulbis bemoaned having to do. Now, at age 29, having to work his way back into the top ranks doesn’t seem as beneath him. After defeating Zverev, Gulbis during his post-match interview took pride in having to qualify for both Roland Garros and Wimbledon saying not many players do that, which is true.

One big reason Gulbis has found consistency again is that he has reteamed with coach Gunter Bresnik. This, like many parts of the Gulbis timeline, is also nothing new. Five years ago, Gulbis left Bresnik, then returned and put in the necessary training, and then the results came (French Open semifinals). Bresnik is best known for coaching Dominic Thiem whose results speak for themselves.

“Yeah, I was on and off with my coach, Gunter Bresnik. Now we're back together. As soon as we're back together, put in the work for at least half a year, the results are coming. It was the same story in 2013. The results started to come after approximately half a year of work. This time it's the same thing. I started to work with him last year little bit before Wimbledon, then we weren't completely back together. Then after US Open I started to work with him almost full-time, as much time as he could give me. So yeah, this is the story I think.”

After his win over Zverev, Gulbis was told that this was the first time he’d ever reached the second week of Wimbledon. His response was “I have another four, five years in tennis, so you’ll see me around.” Does this mean Gulbis will become a mainstay week after week? Or again drift in and out every so often to remind you of his talent?

Gulbis is now married with a young daughter. Because of these life changes he's said that he realizes he does have fewer years left to play than when he first broke onto the scene and was tipped as the “next big thing.”

Now that he’s seen younger players like Zverev, Thiem, and Nick Kyrgios, to name a few, now earn that recognition, for good reason, perhaps a more mature Gulbis is finally ready to make the full use of his tennis gifts. But only if, he commits to putting in the work off court that he’s often avoided in the past, or as he admits, done in sporadic bursts.

Gulbis will next face Kei Nishikori, another player on a comeback of his own. Whatever the result of that match, the bigger question remains. Are we seeing a new and more mature Gulbis ready to achieve more in his tennis future than what he has in the past? Or are we again going to turn around and wonder, “What happened to Gulbis?” if he drops out of sight, only to return again with another surprise result?

Only time will tell. But that probably doesn’t concern Gulbis. After all, for him, time is relative.


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