Very good perspective. (and I like when the author says that "Roger loves Roger"...which is the one that Ernests wouldn't name
GULBIS TELLS IT LIKE IT IS AT ROLAND GARROS
By Alix Ramsay
29 MAY 2013
So Ernie is gone, beaten by Gaël Monfils, but Latvia’s greatest export has left his mark on the clay of Roland Garros this year.
For a start, he was one half of the most anticipated match of the tournament so far, even if he did lose it 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 – two gifted, remarkable showmen on the centre court? What’s not to love? – but then there was his take on the golden age of tennis we are currently enjoying. And Ernie doesn’t think it is that golden.
For most of this year, the world No.40 has been working his socks off, climbing the rankings and extoling the virtues of clean living to anyone who cares to listen. He has been doing his best to revamp his image and, after spending most of his career regarded as little more than a super-rich dilettante who was wasting his talent on wine, women and song – and not necessarily in that order – he was now seen as a hard working talent who was gaining due reward for his efforts.
But, deep down, Ernie was just the same. Oh, the days of regular wild nights out may have gone but the intelligent, opinionated and terrifyingly honest Ernie was still there for all to see. Ask that boy a question and you will get your answer, no matter what the subject. It is what makes Ernie Ernie; that is why people love him – although after his frank and candid talk with L’Equipe in Paris, a few of the lads in the locker room may have struck him off their Christmas card lists.
You see, Ernie does not hold with this Mutual Admiration Society malarkey at the top end of the rankings: Roger loves Rafa, admires Nole and gives Muzza due credit; Rafa loves Roger and Muzza and has the deepest respect for Nole; Nole admires everyone and then beats the pants off them while Muzza has known Nole since they were boys together in the juniors, thinks Rafa is the toppest of top blokes and has the utmost respect for Rodge and his 17 grand slam trophies. Of course, the greatest love is that shown to Roger by Roger – but we have all known that for years. It is no wonder he always has the cleanest and closest of shaves: he must spend hours staring into the mirror every morning.
Anyway, Ernie thinks this mutual love-in is a load of olds codswallop.
“Tennis today badly lacks characters,” he told L’Equipe. “I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray, but for me all four of them are boring players. Their interviews are boring. Honestly, they are really boring. I often go on YouTube to watch interviews. I quickly stopped watching tennis interviews. It’s a joke.
“It was Federer who started this trend. He has a superb image as a perfect Swiss gentleman. I repeat that I respect Federer, but I don’t like the way that young players try to imitate him. When I hear them reply like Roger, I am alarmed by phrases like: “I had a bit more success at certain moments and that was how I won.” What does that mean? If I’ve won, I’ve sent the other guy home. That’s the reality. I don’t want to hear in an interview a guy who I wouldn’t name but who I know thinks all his opponents are arseholes, putting on an act.”
This was strong stuff but you could see Ernie’s point. Rodge once got a bit tetchy about – but not with – Muzz when the bookies made Scotland’s finest the favourite going into the Australian Open in 2009. He was not particularly happy about having a losing record to Andy either, but it was not what you might call a major spat. Djoko got a bit antsy with Andy Roddick when the American suggested at the 2008 US Open that the lovely Nole might be a bit of a hypochondriac but they kissed and made up pretty quickly. As for the Muzz, he will stand his ground if anyone has a go at him but he picks his fights carefully and, generally, steers clear of controversy.
Bizarrely, the only one of the top four who really had a pop at anyone was Raf. Back in 2007, Robin Soderling took the mick out of Raf over five sets and three, rain-sodden days; Raf won but he wasn’t happy with the Swede’s behaviour. And in a stunning rant, every word dripping with vitriol and venom, Rafa said: “In the locker room, for the other players, is not the best guy in the locker room.”
Yes, you really can see where Ernie is coming from on this.
As we all know, Ernie is pals with Marat Safin and there is a distinct similarity between the two. You always knew when Marat was angry, you knew when he was happy and, in between, when he was fit and focused, he played sublime tennis. These days, tennis misses Marat.
“I don’t want to appear nice,” Ernie said. “On the court it’s a war. Away from the court, no problem. I’ve got a good relationship with most players. But I want to say what I think. If I predict that I’m going to win the match, I don’t worry about saying it.
“I would prefer that interviews were like those in boxing. Agreed, those people aren’t perhaps the most brilliant on earth, but when they’re not weighing up what they’re saying, they come out with what the spectators are expecting: war, blood, emotions. All of which is lacking in tennis, where everything is clean, completely white, with gentle handshakes and pretty shots. Whereas people would like to see broken rackets and hear some outbursts on the court.”
There were no outbursts on Wednesday – Ernie and Gaël get on well – but there were a few moments of fun. Monfils, seeing that Ernie was getting a bit tired after the third set, told his rival that there was at least 90 minutes of light left – they were here for the duration. Ernie, who had suffered a few netcords, dinks and jinks at the hands of La Monf, one on set point, was not upset. “I joked with him,” Ernie said. “I told him, Please, this set without a net roll, like he did in the set point. He laughed.”
In the end, it came down to stamina – La Monf had it and Ernie didn’t. He will work on that as he gets ready for the grass in Halle and then Wimbledon.
“I’m going to go now and practice on my fitness,” he said. “Simple. I was getting tired with my legs in the fourth set, but I also think if I would win the third set, it would be the other way around, because Gaël was also tired. And it was more mental than physical. But still, I cannot allow myself to feel like this in the fourth or fifth set. So I still need to work on my fitness. If I play my top tennis, you know, there is not going to be many guys who can compete with me when I’m playing the best.”
And before anyone asks, no, he wasn’t going to go out for a drink on Wednesday night. But that is not to say he will never drink again. When Ernie plays, he plays flat-out and when he parties, he does likewise. He may keep himself pure for the tour but on his time off, our Ernie is still game for a good time.
“When I go out, I go out,” he said. “I don’t want to go into details, but when I party I like to party. Crazy or not, if you get drunk with some mates and you get to bed at seven in the morning, I say that’s normal.”
That’s our Ernie for you. If only there were a few more like him around the sterile world of men’s tennis.