In front of a raucous crowd on Wimbledon‘s Court #1, Latvian Ernests Gulbis pulled off a remarkable feat. Unseeded at this tournament, Gulbis was taking on rising star Alexander Zverev, who is cementing himself in the top tier of next-generation players.
Down two sets to one, it appeared that Zverev was taking control of this match en route to the Round of 16. But Gulbis had other ideas. Serving up 18 aces winning 73% of his first serve points, the Latvian pummeled the German youngster 6-3, 6-0 in the final two sets, advancing to the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Ernests is now ranked 138th in the world, considered by many tennis pundits to be an afterthought of the game. With yesterday’s win over a top-5 player, Gulbis is now embracing and personifying the underdog aura, trying to wreak havoc in a draw that has seen numerous top seeds bow out before Manic Monday.
Ernest Gulbis Once Considered Perennial Top-10 Player
From a very young age, Gulbis had a burning desire to be one of the best tennis players in the world. Beginning to play the sport at 12 years old, he became a prodigy of Niki Pilic, who was a former Davis Cup captain for Croatia.
The Latvian began to rise in the junior circuit, before becoming a professional and participating in his first Grand Slam tournament in 2007 at the French Open. Gulbis is defined by his powerful baseline game, using his flat backhand and sneaky finesse shots to catch his opponents off guard.
The tennis world began to take notice of the fiery player when he started defeating top-ranked opponents. In his career, Gulbis has defeated Roger Federer twice, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Juan Martin Del Potro.
2014 would prove to be Ernests’s best year. At the 2014 French Open, he would make his first Grand Slam semifinal, which included beating the Swiss maestro Federer. He would eventually lose to Serbian Novak Djokovic in four sets 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Becoming a member of the top-10 for the first time in his career, Gulbis was becoming a contender at every Grand Slam tournament, one who would materialize as a tough out for the Big Four tennis superstars.
Injuries and Personal Struggles Force Ernest Gulbis to Tumble in Rankings
As a tennis player, you are only as great as your last tournament results. Building consistency requires hard work, execution and a little bit of luck, in order to stay in the top-10.
For Gulbis, his time at the top of the rankings was short-lived. A series of injuries took place, including serious problems with his shoulder, sidelining the Latvian from the game for an extended period of time.
One injury after another and soon Ernests was being relegated to challenger events and ranked as low as 585th in the world.
Gulbis also had a run-in with the law, including being arrested in Sweden for allegedly soliciting prostitution. It was clear that between injuries and personal issues, it would be a long road filled with perseverance and unwavering determination, in order for the Latvian to be where he once was on the ATP Tour.
Ernests Gulbis Eager to have Successful End to Career
Being outside the top-100, Gulbis now has to qualify for Grand Slam tournaments, including this year’s Wimbledon.
Before Wimbledon, he only had one ATP level win. He now has six consecutive wins and is the first male qualifier in six years to make it to the Round of 16.
“I’m glad that I went through it,” Gulbis said. “It makes me stronger mentally.”
Gulbis’s recent stellar play has caught the attention of his female country counterpart, Jelena Ostapenko, the 2016 French Open winner and trying to advance to the Wimbledon quarterfinals on Monday.
“It’s great to see him doing this well, because I think he is such a talented player and he can play on a very high level,” Ostapenko said about Gulbis. “I hope he’s going to go even further in the tournament.”
The Latvian’s fourth-round opponent is seasoned veteran Kei Nishikori. Nishikori is coming off a straight-set victory of Australian Nick Kyrigos, where he won 77% of his total service points and converted on four of his eight break chances.
Nishikori and Gulbis have met twice in the past, where the Japanese player has won both meetings. He is coming back into form after struggling with nagging injuries, using his defensive, baseline play to punish opponents with his groundstrokes.
This match will be difficult for Gulbis, who hasn’t been known throughout his career to have consistent back-to-back wins over top players. But if there is ever a time to embrace the underdog persona, it is now.
Gulbis is ready for this challenge and eager to prove to the tennis world that the twilight of his career will be filled with successful results.