It hasn’t been often over the last year that Ernests Gulbis has been faced with a room full of reporters after a match. More often than not, he’s been packing a bag and heading off to the next tournament. That’s how few and far between his wins had become. The 24 year old Latvian, whose ranking peaked at 21 in 2011, had bottomed out at 159 in October of 2012, a ranking that often relegated him to playing challengers or qualifying for the ATP events. Perhaps the biggest low came just last month in Bergamo, Italy where Gulbis fell to world number 234, Michal Przysiezny, in the opening round of a challenger. Gulbis said he mother had a suggestion after that particular loss, “she told me that I should quit tennis. I told her, give me one more month. So now at least she’s happy.” She’s not the only one that’s happy these days. Gulbis has displayed his charming grin all week in press, getting all sorts of questions about his win streak, which has now reached thirteen matches, including qualifying and winning the Delray Beach tournament and qualifying and subsequently reaching the fourth round here in Indian Wells.
After his second round win against 9th seed, Janko Tipsarevic, talked about some of his struggles, the highs and lows of reaching a peak so early in your career, saying, “so story of my life, you know. I reach something, and then I destroy it.” He spoke with the wisdom of someone who made childish mistakes but is finally starting to grow up. He seems dedicated to his routine. He’s hired a new coach, Gunter Bresnik, and the results speak for themselves. It appears he has no intention of destroying things this time around, what he considers more like a fourth chance than a second or third. “I hope it’s my last one. I hope that this is the one where I make it.” It’s a long climb back to the top, but it seems like he’s doing things the right way this time around. But, that doesn’t mean he’s being hard of himself about taking so long to figure things out, saying, “somebody doesn’t figure it out all his life. I figured it out after 24 years. I think it’s quick enough.”
The normally light hearted Gulbis turned serious in Saturday’s press conference when he was asked about the differences between playing tour level tournaments and challengers. He quickly shot back, “When was the last time you were in challenger? Go to it. Really.” There’s likely no greater difference than a tournament like the BNP Paribas Open, which pampers its players to the nth, and a 50k challenger housed in a college gym. Perhaps heading back to that world helped develop this new found drive for the Latvian, who has beaten three Top 20 players in his current streak, the longest of his career.
Certainly his next opponent will be the toughest challenge he has faced yet. His fourth round opponent is none other than Rafael Nadal, who received a walkover from Leonardo Mayer on Monday. Gulbis has a 0-4 record against the number 5 seed, who is playing just his third tournament this season after being sidelined with an injury since last July. Gulbis is confident that he has a good chance of beating Nadal the way he’s playing right now, but a loss would not be devastating because he’s on the right track. He said, “it doesn’t, okay, it matters if I win or not, but I want to play as much as matches as possible against these top guys. Sooner or later I’m going to win something, you know, it’s gonna give me extra confidence, and then just to keep it there, you know.”