Eyeing A Deep AO Run, Gulbis Issues S.O.S For More Shoes
Six years ago, Ernests Gulbis worried that he was running out of time to turn around his career. The 25-year-old Latvian had shown flashes of his talent, but never put everything together.
“I did a lot of bad decisions career-wise. Maybe not even just bad decisions, but just not paying too much attention to the things [that] I do, not paying too much attention how to treat my body, how to practise,” he said at 2014 Roland Garros, before going onto beat Roger Federer and make the semi-finals.
“Basically I [am] jumping [on] the last train.”
If that was the case then, Gulbis has been hanging onto the final car of the train this week in Melbourne. On Thursday, the 31-year-old right-hander beat Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 to advance to his first Australian Open third round. Gulbis last reached the third round or better at a Grand Slam at 2018 Wimbledon (fourth round).
“Every couple years I make some kind of run. We'll see how big it's going to be, the run. Then I take a break again for a couple years,” said Gulbis, who was in a joking mood after his fifth consecutive win in Melbourne.
Gulbis had to qualify for the season's first Grand Slam. Before this week, the World No. 256 hadn't won a tour-level match since 30 July in Los Cabos.
He struggled with injuries and losing streaks, going 6-17 at tour-level last year. Gulbis lost six consecutive tour-level matches from mid-February to mid-May and seven consecutive from mid-May to late July. A back injury forced him to retire from his final two tournaments.
But this year, Gulbis is free of the back spasms that bothered him, and he credits a long off-season for his rejuvenated start.
“It's all about practice, getting fit, and I had a good, really good two months of practice,” Gulbis said. “If I have a good preparation, I know that I'm playing well, I'm safe, I'm good. It was all about that. I know the things I need to work on and just last year... it was just too much up and down.”
On the court, he feels completely prepared as he also showed in his opening four-set win against #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. Gulbis, however, feels less prepared in other areas, such as with his footwear.
He's currently without a clothing sponsor and brought only one pair of his size 11.5 US/46 EU Adidas shoes. He thought he'd easily be able to find some more pairs in Australia.
“I thought that in Melbourne, during the Australian Open, it's going to be no problem at all. I called Adidas. They didn't have one model, not one, nothing. So I had to call like 10, not 10, but maybe at least seven other stores, and only two stores had my shoe size. So I think I bought the last two pairs,” Gulbis said.
His footwear situation may become even more desperate if he keeps winning. Gulbis wore out his first pair, and his second pair already has holes in them. He could quickly be down to his final two shoes. Maybe he could borrow a pair from a fellow Adidas shoe wearer on the ATP Tour?
“I'm not sure who is 46 Adidas. I don't know. I don't know. Dominic [Thiem] is a smaller size. [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, I don't know what size he is. It's funny to even think about it. It's unbelievable,” Gulbis said.
His laid-back attitude aside, the continuation of his late-career resurgence means something to Gulbis, who said he felt emotional after his first-round win against Auger-Aliassime. He last felt that way about one of his matches two years ago, when he beat Germany's Alexander Zverev in the third round after qualifying at 2018 Wimbledon.
But just last week Gulbis found himself teary-eyed in Melbourne Park. He watched as France's Constant Lestienne cried on court after winning his first-round of quallies.
“I was so happy for the guy. Really. I like it when things like this happen, when it pays off. I like these emotions. I also enjoy it when it happens to me, otherwise, you feel like a robot,” Gulbis said.
“I get more emotional with age, really. It's incredible. I have tears in my eyes for no reasons.”
He has had a lot of reasons to be emotional at the Australian Open, and a fourth-round showing in Melbourne, which would be only his sixth at a Grand Slam, would be his best reason yet.
“I'm really happy with five wins already. For me it's really important, every [FedEx ATP Ranking] point which I can get now. Because I really want to get, as fast as possible, back into Top 100. That's my goal,” Gulbis said. “If I'm in quallies in 250s then I'm happy.”
The last train? Gulbis says he has at least another half decade of rides left on the ATP Tour.
“I think that I can play another five years, and we'll see. We'll see.”