Men's Tennis (ATP)
Is Gulbis ready for his close-up?

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - He may be about a year late, but Ernests Gulbis could be ready for his breakthrough on the ATP World Tour.

Gulbis appeared to be on his way following a solid 2008 campaign, one in which he made it all the way to the elite eight (the quarterfinals) at the French Open (before losing to Novak Djokovic) and reached a career-high world No. 38 ranking as a teenager, but 2009 was a vastly disappointing season for the lanky Latvian.

The still-only-21-year-old Gulbis already has 10 match wins so far this year. It took him until Wimbledon of last season to corral his 10th win to give you some sort of idea how bad he was in '09.

This past weekend, an unseeded Gulbis became the first-ever player from Latvia to title on the ATP circuit, as he upset the tallest player in the history of the sport, 6-foot-10 Croat Ivo Karlovic, in the title match in Delray Beach, Florida. (Unfortunately for the second-seeded giant Karlovic, he was celebrating his 31st birthday on Sunday.)

"Everything I do it's the first for my country," Gulbis said. "I was first one in top 300, first one in top 200, first one in top 100."

Ernests Gulbis is the only player from Latvia to title on the ATP World Tour.
The world No. 45 Gulbis is off to a 10-4 start this year, including wins over capable performers like Czechs Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek and "Dr. Ivo" (Karlovic). He's reached at least the quarterfinals in three of his five tournaments this season, and has landed in at least the semifinals in his last two outings.

Delray Beach marked his first-ever final at the ATP level.

The 6-foot-3 Gulbis was considered one of the top prospects on the tour two years ago, but he struggled with the expectations mightily in '09, a year that saw him go a disappointing 20-26...and still seeking an elusive title.

The "Gull" finished 2008 ranked just outside the Top 50 (53rd), but exited 2009 ranked 90th and heading the wrong way, thanks also in part to some knee problems.

Gulbis has still reached only one major quarterfinal, and has failed to get past the second round at the last seven Grand Slam events, including a pair of head-shaking first-round exits (2009 U.S. Open and this year's Aussie Open).

Note: Ernie reached the round of 16, as a 19-year-old, at the 2007 U.S. Open.

So why are we excited about EG at this point? Probably because we know how much talent the Riga native possesses, and maybe he just needed that first ATP title to get him the one thing that's been missing from his formidable game...confidence.

Note: Ernests Gulbis is not related to LPGA glamour girl Natalie Gulbis.

Moving on.

The hard-serving Latvian, who started playing tennis at age five and is currently coached by former ATP player (and former Marat Safin coach) Hernan Gumy, has struggled at the majors, but it's safe to say that he's looking forward to the late-May/early-June French Open, where he's a respectable 6-3 lifetime, including that quarterfinal run in '08. He's very comfortable on clay, but considers hardcourt to be his best surface.

FYI, the surface Gulbis titled on in Florida was (and still is) a hardcourt, and he ran the table there without dropping a set.

Impressive.

I would also like to point out that if tennis doesn't work out for Gulbis, he can probably fall back on his wealthy/former basketball-playing father, Ainars, who has amassed quite a tidy little sum as an investment businessman.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley

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