Ernests Gulbis Storms Back; Grunting Still an Issue — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Stuttering Finish

With many of the world’s top-ranked female stars in attendance, the BNP Paribas Open started off so promising. It’s losing steam as it heads to the finale, however, thanks to a couple of key upsets and unfortunate withdrawals. Kirilenko upset both Aga Radwanska and Kvitova to set up a semifinal clash with Sharapova, which is a matchup the World No. 3 likely prefers with the No. 2 ranking up for grabs should she advance to the final. On the opposite side of the draw, Kerber and Wozniacki find themselves in the semis after both Stosur and Azarenka withdrew with leg and ankle injuries. All four women are accomplished players, but with only one of the top-four-ranked women present in the semis, the tournament no longer possesses quite the same level of excitement. It’s a shame for the tournament organizers, but if one person can take these lemons and turn them into lemonade, it’s Sharapova, who is now the strong favorite to take home the title.

Ernests Gulbis in his match against Rafael Nadal at the BNP Paribas Open.

Just Won’t Die

Just when you thought that ugly issue would go away, the topic of grunting is once again making tennis headlines. This time, it’s actual grunting, with the latest complaint coming from Murray against ATP pro Berlocq. Murray was moved to complain about the Argentine’s long and loud grunts after his opponent complained to the umpire that he thought Murray was taking longer than the permitted 25 second between points. Irrespective of what prompted the complaint, it was legitimate. But Berlocq isn’t the only loud competitor on the ATP World Tour. Granollers has long been touted as having one of the most distracting grunts, and others, like Nadal, Djokovic, and Ferrer, have also been known to get a little too vocal. Federer hit the nail on the head when he said it’s all about respecting your opponent and suggested that there is such a thing has being too loud. Unfortunately, the ATP players are less likely to pursue a solution to the grunting problem, but with any luck, perhaps they will. Pursuing a solution might then have a spillover effect to the WTA and force the governing bodies to do something now. There are too many positives in the sport for it to be hounded by this issue, but there’s no denying its impact on the sport is growing, and not for the better.

One to Watch

Okay, Ernests Gulbis has been “one to watch” on more than one occasion throughout his career, but after a thirteen match win-streak and a near upset of Nadal in the Round of 16 in Indian Wells, maybe this time, the label will stick. The Latvian may lack the looks and some of the charm of Marat Safin, but he’s definitely the closest thing tennis currently has to the charismatic Russian. He’s unabashedly confident and honest, from declaring he didn’t fear Nadal and had the goods to beat the Spaniard, to his calling out his peers for what he perceives to be fake congratulations. Love him or hate him, he calls it like he sees it. He’s also always had the talent to pull off a plethora of shots to flummox his opponents and thrill the crowds, but the consistency has been lacking. After winning a title in Delray Beach and nearly booking a quarterfinal berth in Indian Wells, however, things could be turning around. At 24, Gulbis is starting to mature. He’s starting to make strides at controlling his temper and keeping the bad patches of play short and to a minimum over the course of a match. We’ll have to wait and see how he fares in the coming weeks, but if this guy has truly put it together, the rest of the field better be on alert.

Bated Breath

Mardy Fish fans will be anxious as the Miami Masters approaches, as the second Masters of 2013 may ultimately turn out to be the American’s last tournament as a professional. Fish has in no way committed to anything, but he made it clear that he hasn’t ruled out walking away from the game after just his second event this season. After Miami, he plans to assess where he is, if he feels comfortable competing and can do so at a high level. After his stint at Indian Wells, things certainly look dicey. He did win a match, and if you just saw the score line, you’d be impressed that he took a player of Tsonga’s caliber to two tiebreak sets in the third round. But Fish blew a 4-0 lead in the second, and he also served for it at 5-4. That may haunt him as he takes to the court in Florida, which given all that he’s dealing with, will make competing there all the more difficult. Hopefully Fish won’t be ready to throw in the towel. Even if he opts to skip the clay court season, it would be nice to see him give it one last go on the lawns of Wimbledon or see if he can rediscover some magic during the US Open Series. But he’s got to feel comfortable with it, and based on the statements he’s made of late, his fans would be well served to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Professional Perspective

With 2012 finalist Isner being bounced out of Indian Wells early (and projected to fall out of the top 20 as a result), Sam Querrey will become the new No. 1 for the United States next week. It’s a great achievement for Querrey, who has had his ups and down with injuries and mental attitude. But what was even better was Querrey’s response to becoming the top American. He recognized it for the honor that it is but was quick to point out that with tennis being such a global sport, what really matters is the world ranking. On that front, Querrey still has plenty of work to do, but with a Round of 16 showing in Indian Wells, he’s moving in the right direction. He’ll be looking to post a respectable result in Miami, and if he can continue to grow and improve, he could be poised for a big summer.