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THE SELF-EDUCATION OF ERNESTS GULBIS
By Sandra Harwitt
One thing you can always count on is that wherever you encounter Ernie he will be in fine form. Nope, I’m not talking about on the court, although Ernie’s been showing some impressively solid form this year. I’m talking off the court where he maintains a funny, wacky side that’s endeared him to one-and-all. And for a player to continually captivate an audience of journalists, who tend to be highly critical and skeptical of their subjects, is a knack that only a few possess.
So who is this Ernie character? Not a muppet, for sure, although sometimes he has muppet tendencies. Nope, I’m talking Ernests Gulbis, the delightfully amusing Latvian currently ranked No. 40 in the world.
Ernie, however, is attempting a lifestyle overhaul this year, bless his soul. Let me assure you that for a good-time guy this is no easy task. Attaining a healthy and G-rated lifestyle is certainly a challenge, but Ernie insists five months through the 2013 season and he’s giving himself an “A” grade in regards to keeping to the plan.
“I haven’t been in a good mood coming into a Grand Slam in quite a while,” said Gulbis, after a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3 first round win over Rogerio Dutra Silva at Roland Garros on Monday. “I skipped Australia and this is basically my first Grand Slam where I am playing again very good tennis.”
Earlier in the year at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, the 24-year-old — the son of an entrepreneur businessman and a successful Latvian actress — offered a grand pronouncement: He’s given up liquor and partying.
How’s he doing curtailing the fun and sticking to a regiment? He claims well. He says his last drink was on November 1st of last year and it was a combo — odd combo at that — of a shot of cold vodka with a shot of cold milk.
“No drink, I’m finish with this.” said the new, improved Ernie, laughing. “What was it — I think vodka and milk, I mixed it. Actually if you try it – a good shot of vodka and a glass of milk, it’s nice. You know when you drink cranberry juice it irritates your stomach and I have a burning feeling here (points to esophagus). With milk it really calms you down. It doesn’t work for everybody.”
As for the partying, Ernie wasn’t quite as reassuring, countering the question with a sly smile while posing his own question: “What do you consider party?”
Ernie might be a bit of a wise ass off the court, but on the court he actually likes to play it as a straight arrow. He doesn’t believe in any of this unsportsmanlike gamesmanship. His strategy, whether playing great or poor, remains the same. He goes out there, gives what he have to give, and either wins or loses.
“I can sometimes be somewhat disrespectful in some press conference or something but when I play I really want to respect the opponent,” he said. “I don’t want to take medical timeouts. I don’t like to screw up the other player’s rhythm. I don’t like this. I want that the better player wins without any screwing games, you know.”
Actually kind of refreshing, don’t you think?
What’s been disappointing is that Ernie’s always been identified as one of the major natural talents in the game. When he’s playing ‘oh so good,’ he’s fun to watch and you find yourself wondering why he’s not consistently among the top players. But talent that isn’t combined with hard work and dedication can get squandered. A more mature Gulbis seems to have figured that out — finally.
“How professional are Novak and the top four guys?” Gulbis asks. “I honestly don’t think that Novak is the biggest talent — he’s talented, for sure — but you know he’s been so professional all his career since I know him, since the age of 13 he’s been doing all the right decisions, all the things, all the right preparations and look at his body now. No fat, fast, agile and everything. If you want to compete on this level you have to be naturally strong and then you have to build up.”
How long can he keep up his faithful commitment to be the best he can be?
Who knows? But all fans must be hoping that Ernie’s dedication doesn’t eclipse his loose-lipped humor because together they make him the total tennis package.