work ethic

Ernests Gulbis: What is Talent Really Worth?

Would you rather have all the natural talent in the world and not an ounce of work ethic or all the work ethic in the world and not an ounce of natural talent?

A true existential question of life. The final question in the tennis equivalent of ‘Would You Rather?’. While the greatest champions in tennis were the lucky individuals blessed with both, most aren’t so lucky. Some go on to forge a solid career with the limited tools they have, purely because the want it. Others, believing their talent can do all the talking, vastly underachieve – only the leave the tennis punditry discussing what ‘could’ve been.’

Ernests Gulbis has, up until this point, belonged to the latter group. Gulbis, who comes from an incredibly wealthy family, often appears to treat tennis as just something to do. He’s never wanted for anything; his father allegedly owns a private jet, and according to Gulbis himself, “a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship.” In 2009, he spent a night in a Swedish jail for allegedly soliciting a prostitute, but was released in time to compete in that edition of the Swedish Open.

When Gulbis applies himself, much like a young child in school, the results have come. In just his second trip to Roland Garros, he reached the quarterfinals in 2008; however, he has not been past the second round of a major since. He peaked at a career-high of No. 21 in February of 2011, owns three career ATP titles and has wins over Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych in his career. As evidenced when he cares, Gulbis possesses a full compliment of skills.

Nonetheless, Gulbis has continued to let his mouth, rather than his racket, do most of the talking. After falling out of the top 100 in February, Gulbis took issue with some players ranked in front of him, players with less talent who put in the hard yards and work exponentially harder. “I was really getting pissed to see who’s in the top 100,’” Gulbis said. “There are some guys who I don’t know who they are. Some guys, I’m sorry, with respect—they can’t play tennis.”

Some call Gulbis a colorful character, while others abhor his seemingly brattish and entitled behavior. Get him in the right mood on court and he becomes a walking code violation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRmL_J5HNzE

In Monte Carlo on Wednesday, Gulbis was penalized with not one, but three code violations en route to a 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Juan Monaco in the second round. He received his first warning for racket abuse early in the second set and was docked a point for ball abuse early in the third; after being broken in the second game of the final set, Gulbis smashed his racket against the umpire’s chair and was penalized a game in line with his third code violation. The game penalty put him down 3-0 in the final set and this loomed large; Gulbis rallied from 5-1 to 5-3 in the final set but couldn’t close the gap in the end.

Gulbis really didn’t need to cement his status as the most frustrating player in tennis, but he did so anyway. He often comments about his lack of discipline on and off court, and is on the record as saying that he doesn’t like practicing. Money isn’t a motivating factor for him either. “…It’s not a big issue for me. If you come from a poor family, you want to pull yourself up, you have a goal to earn money. I don’t have that goal.” So, what are his goals?

“This is the first year I really want to do this,” Gulbis said in February. “I’m starting to enjoy tennis much more. Before I didn’t like it, honestly…Now, I want to play maybe five more years and do the best I can. My goal is to really win something big.” Trouble is, words only go so far. The old cliché is ‘actions speak louder than words.’ Gulbis can’t blame his petulance and boorishness on the hormones of youth anymore. At 24 years of age, he’s running out of time to make good on his word. Having watched Gulbis over the past five years, it’s still hard to say if he even wants to.

The Friday Five: Danish Sensation Caroline Wozniacki is Top Seed at US Open

Back on Track – Last week in Cincinnati, Roger Federer righted the ship, going one better than he did in Canada to take the coveted Masters 1000 title. Not surprisingly, many of the pundits have quickly jumped back on the Federer bandwagon, with several of them declaring him the man to beat in Flushing. There’s little doubt that Federer is starting to play the brand of tennis that won him his 16th major earlier this year, and of the top four players in the world, he had the best overall two weeks across Canada and Cincy (though admittedly, he had an easier road than the other three in Cincinnati thanks to a retirement and walkover). So while Federer may not be deserving of the heavy favorite status that was due to him the last few years going into the Open, one would be a glutton for punishment to bet heavily against him winning his 17th Grand Slam singles title in a few weeks time.

The Great Dane – Heading into the US Open where she achieved reaching her first Grand Slam singles final just a year ago, life is looking very good for Danish sensation Caroline Wozniaki. She showed great patience and steady nerves as she waited out the rain to take out Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis and Vera Zvonareva in the finals (dropping just five games in each match!), to take the top tier Roger Cup title. As an added bonus, Wozniaki will enjoy her first stint as the top seed at a Slam, with the honor coming as a result of Serena Williams being forced to pull out of the US Open. While many are still tipping the likes of No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters as more of a threat to take the title, keep an eye on this Dane. With a positive attitude, a steady game, and a great work ethic, a major title could be very near on the horizon.

Return of a Champion – It’s not as early as she and many in the tennis world had hoped, but Serena Williams has announced that she intends to make her comeback later next month in Tokyo at the Pan Pacific Open. Both fans and Serena will get a chance to see how quickly she finds her game after the injury layoff, with eight of the world’s top ten currently entered into the star-studded field. Irrespective of what you feel about her, there’s an undeniable added buzz when she’s in the competition. So enjoy the Open but look forward to what could shape up to be a competitive fall and exciting end to the 2010 WTA season.

In a Flash – The woes of James Blake in 2010 are many and well known, but for one brief match, everything went right for the veteran American. Blake took young Spaniard Pere Riba out of the Pilot Pen in New Haven with the loss of just a single game in what was the fastest match on the tour this year. And while Riba is a man who currently has predominantly made his living on the challenger circuit and is most at home on the dirt, there was some hope that the 35-minute clinic Blake put on in his win over Riba would instill more confidence as he went on to face Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for Blake in that match, but at least there was something positive to take away from this week. And while it is unlikely that Blake will need any extra motivation as he prepares for the US Open, a venue where he has enjoyed some of his most spectacular moments as a professional, it would be wonderful if he could channel this small positive in New Haven into some vintage Blake play that sees him end 2010 on a respectable high as he heads into what could be a permanent hiatus from the game.

Great Idea – Hats off to the people behind getting the US Open draw televised on ESPN2 with live streaming available on ESPN3.com. The concept of the US Open Series has been a phenomenal hit, with ratings continuing to be strong, and this latest wrinkle only enhances the fan experience leading into Flushing Meadows. Can’t wait to see what feature they incorporate next!

By Maud Watson

Jump On The Nalbandwagon

Anyone else ready to jump on the Nalbandwagon?

While I can’t claim that nifty term as my own, I have no doubt that many tennis fans and members of the media will be starting to mention Nalbandian’s name as a real threat as the U.S. Open approaches. The Argentine is sure to be on many people’s list of darkhorse candidates. Giving Nalbandian the underdog tag however, is not doing him any justice. The reasons for his fall in the rankings has nothing to do with a lack of talent or work ethic.

Few players have had to endure the injury troubles that Nalbandian has faced in the past couple of seasons. I’d put him up there with Tommy Haas in terms of veteran players with tons of skill and little luck. Having reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2002, Nalbandian is one of only a few players who have made the semis of every other Grand Slam as well. (U.S. Open in ’03, Australian Open in ’06 and the French Open in ’04 and ’06.)

Nalbandian’s injury troubles began in May of 2009 when he was sidelined for the rest of the ATP season after undergoing hip surgery. When he came back for the start of the 2010 season, an abdominal injury sustained during practice delayed his return until February. He managed to squeeze in two months of play before a right leg injury derailed his progress shortly before Wimbledon. Nalbandian was seemingly unable to remain healthy.

A month ago he made his return to the tour and since that time has been absolutely on fire, winning 11 matches in a row including his victory this morning in Toronto over 5th seed Robin Soderling, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. No wonder he seems so uncharacteristically cheerful in his press conferences this week. I feel like Nalbandian’s biggest surprise in his comeback so far has been his noticeable attitude adjustment rather than the crisp ball-striking that I figured would surely return to him.

“I’ve been a long time out of the circuit, and I’m really enjoying this time now,” Nalbandian revealed after the match. Talk about an understatement!

He went on to say that the injuries, “…made me think about that and get more motivation to come, to play, to enjoy it, and work on my last few years on the tour.”

Nalbandian’s impressive winning streak began with a 3-2 Davis Cup quarter-final victory by Argentina versus Russia in July. He was instrumental in that win by knocking off both Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets.

He followed up that impressive display by marching right through the draw at the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C. His path of destruction left top-thirty level guys like Wawrinka, Cilic, Simon and finally Baghdatis in its wake.

Toronto has provided players like Nalbandian with an excellent platform towards recovery in the past. Two years ago it was Nicolas Kiefer of Germany who reclaimed his game by marching all the way to the finals where he lost to Rafa Nadal. While Nalbandian came into the tournament with a good number of wins under his belt, this is a Masters 1000 tourney with a much tougher crowd to face.

The journey for Nalbandian will only get more difficult each day he stays alive in Toronto. Next up is either world number four, Andy Murray or Gael Monfils. Once again Nalbandian will be labeled the underdog, but other players should beware if they treat him that way or they might be joining Robin Soderling with an early visit to Cincinnati.