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Latvian as entertaining as ever in press conference after last-gasp win over Volandri
You can’t beat Roger Federer every day. And after 48 hours of fielding questions from the world’s press about how he defeated the world No.1 on Tuesday, Ernests Gulbis almost came back to earth with a bump in the third round here in Rome. Wild card Filippo Volandri, buoyed by a partisan centre court crowd on a gorgeous afternoon, pushed him all the way before fading in a third set tie-break, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4).
“I played a little strange but I’m very happy that I won today and I think that is the most important thing, because I won against Federer two days ago and the next match is mentally very tough. You know, you win against the top player in the world and you’re mentally exhausted,” explained a tired yet satisfied Gulbis. “This match was much better than the match before with Federer. I wasn’t so nervous – in the first set I played a lot better but I was more nervous at the end of the first set than in the second set. I don’t know why. I felt I was close to winning and then suddenly the game changed completely. I wasn’t hitting the ball well. Basically all of the second and third set I was playing – I don’t know why – a kind of women’s tennis. I was trying to push the ball and I wasn’t playing my game at all in the second and third set.”
“After the first set I think he’d changed his game a little bit. It’s tough for me to analyse my own games. I think that in the second set he was getting more balls in and he was moving me more. He was hitting really good backhand cross shots to my backhand which is really good, really tough on clay for a two-handed backhander. So he was moving around well and I wasn’t aggressive enough. I was aggressive in the wrong points, hitting stupid shots.”
As well as Volandri, the Latvian had to face the thousands of tifosi on centre court who applauded his Italian opponent’s every winner and greeted any challenges by Gulbis with whistles and cat calls. Not that this threw the 21-year-old off his stride. Au contraire. “I love it! That’s what gives me extra motivation to fight to the end and to run for every ball and to die on the court. I played the Davis Cup here in Italy and we won. They don’t look at the history. Maybe they should cheer for me and I might lose…”
And now we were officially into the Ernests part of the conference – time for his now trademark humour to come to the fore. Any questions from hereon in were treated as feeds, and Ernie had the punchlines. When asked about the drop-shots he played throughout the match, he put on his most earnest face. “It was a very strategic move from my side. I played drop shots because I needed to move him a lot.” Then after giving the scribes long enough to digest that little insight into his style of play, earnest was replaced by Ernests. “No, I just make drop shots when I feel like it. I don’t have a game-plan at all. I just hit shots and I make a drop shot just to do something else. That’s it. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s 50 – 50,” he said with a grin. “Russian roulette!”
Gulbis cannot win a match at the moment without being asked about his misspent youth – that lost 2009 season when he spent more time off court than on. This is the second time that he has reached the quarter-finals of a Masters tournament, the first being two years ago in Cincinnati. Was the time in between wasted, someone dared to ask? “Sorry, I don’t agree. I have had a good life. I’m a young guy and I didn’t waste it. Maybe tennis-wise but tennis isn’t everything in life. It’s not all my life…… I was living more experiences, even bad experiences in the end are good. I know what I don’t need to do – to not succeed! I know how to do that perfectly! If you need some tips on how to not succeed…! Now I’m a little bit smarter and I think I’m doing better.”
No more questions? “Thank you,” said Gulbis, and off he went. No Ernests, thank you…