May 1, 2013, 12:00:00 AM

Why are we giving so much space to the 53rd player in the world? Just because this young man and his arrogant tennis has once again made some noise in Miami and Monte Carlo, and is perhaps greater than irritating. He's been disappointing for five years bu

Why are we giving so much space to the 53rd player in the world? Just because this young man and his arrogant tennis has once again made some noise in Miami and Monte Carlo, and is perhaps greater than irritating. He's been disappointing for five years but we still want to believe in him...


"What do you have to do to get a match penalty?" This is the question asked by Ernests Gulbis at the middle of the match to the Referee Mohammed El Jennati, after picking up a game penalty for having thrown a ball in the public of the Monte-Carlo Country Club and for smashing his racket on the chair of the Moroccan judge. A rare sanction because it comes after three warnings! Yet everyone agrees that Ernests Gulbis has changed. For better. Him first. "Smoking, drinking, staying up late... All this is over!” he said earlier this year. 152nd in October after a disastrous season, the Latvian was a double fault away to ditch everything. Until this new awareness, came out of nowhere. As a symbol, he shortened his lanky student mane. And with his more mature silhouette, Gulbis is no longer a daredevil. That is to say less drop shots, less second balls served at 120 mph and more realism. And so it's also better for his trophy cabinet. Winner in Delray Beach in February, he has already gained 100 places in the ATP rankings since the beginning of the year... Who knows if it’s little or a lot in the mind of the aspiring champion, long inspired by his indiscipline. Young, he wore out Nikola Pilic, finalist at Roland Garros in 1973: "We separated because Ernests isn’t always sharing the same idea than me of professional sports.” Today, it's Gunther Bresnik that suffers: "It's amazing what he can do. But if you try to discipline him, you've already lost. He has a huge problem with authority. »


Private jets, prison and prostitutes

What is insubordination according to Gulbis ? It's probably like one of La Fontaine fable of which the moral would be that, today, talent is no longer enough to create an illusion without work. The year of his 20th birthday in 2008, Gulbis reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros where he stood up to Novak Djokovic. Promising. Two years later, in Rome, he eliminated Federer right away and made Rafael Nadal work overtime in the semi-finals (that he only won 6/4 in the third set). There was the grasshopper launched like a rocket! But like all genuinely gifted persons, the Latvian was also and above all a fragile boy, a gambler, out of time and out of his requirements. Into fashion. Into girls too. Out of question to push too much, life is short. Living back in the 50s, when you could get on the court with a cigarette in the mouth, coming straight from a party would have been great for him. But the Arthur Larsen years are now far, very far away. Moral of the story after those few strokes of brilliance, Gulbis doesn’t do anything or almost between 2010 and 2012. Just some trivia. In a tournament in Stockholm, Gulbis goes through the dungeon box for having seen prostitutes, which is forbidden there: "A night in jail, it was great, very entertaining. When I meet a girl, I don't ask her what her job is, no matter that she is a hairdresser... or something else. So I spent a night in jail for nothing, but everyone should spend a night there! I stayed there for six or seven hours, I paid the deposit and that was it”. We admire or hate his declarations, light years away from the ready-made phrases of the tour's pundits. "I don't care if people talk about me, if people look at me. I don't like to be popular, it's useless!". "I know that I'm talented and I have long believed that I didn't need to work. I don't love tennis that much, I don't have an idol or anything.” Gulbis also talks about drugs sometimes, which has been a rare thing on the tour since the hippies players of the 70s: "Unfortunately, tennis players can't take marijuana. We are controlled every week. But I like this way of thinking." And what about his alleged fortune, and the private jets he would use to get from one tournament to another? We saw him give a biting answer: "A private jet, of course, I also have ten helicopters a submarine and a space shuttle. All this is bullshit."


The anti-Rafael Nadal

What is certain is that Gulbis didn't wait for tennis to put his money where his mouth is. The Latvian is, as some might say "well born." A billionaire father, a theatre actress mother, a famous producer grandfather, a sister gone to England to study law, the native of Riga started tennis for fun, initiated by his grandmother. Sent to the Niki Pilic Academy in Germany, he met there a man called Novak Djokovic and readily acknowledged they didn't followed the same path, "Djokovic had a purpose. He was more serious than me. I thought, "Okay, I'll go train" but I did it quite lightly. While he really wanted to train and get better." And inevitably his tennis suffered. Solar, frozen, pedantic, sublime. Choose. One of the finest hitter of the tour seems to hate making efforts. Never to sweat, it's vulgar. As if he refused any dialogue, Gulbis, as a kind of anti-Spanish, is still trying to reduce the exchange to the maximum, distilling here a vicious drop shot or hitting with all his forces a backhand on the line there. Does Ernests the quadrilingual has an aristocratic tennis? Whether he's playing against Tobias Kamke or against a member of the famous "Big Four" his attitude is the same, he always seems to stand above his opponent, almost condescending. Unique. As his interests off the courts: 1970s cinema and literature. Far, far away from the "Code of Conduct" of the Tennis regulations.


By Julien Pichené