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After dazzling on court and in the press room all week, Ernests Gulbis finally bowed out, but not without a flourish
His performance against Rafael Nadal, No.3 seed, four-time Rome (and Roland Garros) champion was above and beyond what everyone expected, taking him to 4-4 in the final set before finally succumbing in a tie where he matched the king of clay blow for blow, winner for winner, for nigh on three hours.
“I started bad and in the first set I was a little nervous against him. In the second set I got into the game and I was playing much better. I got my backhand working, my forehand and my serve too, and I think he was pretty frightened to play on my forehand because I was pushing the ball quite hard and I was also dictating the pace. On clay it’s tough to hit my backhand because the ball comes higher. I did my best, I lost but it was good.”
“Honestly I expected a little bit more from him today,” he continued with his usual frankness. “I thought he was going to be much tougher on my backhand against his left-handed forehand with spin so I thought that was going to be tough, but actually I got into the game and didn’t have any problems in going into rallies with him. I knew it was going to be tough because it doesn’t really matter who is serving in the end. The last game of the match, I would have preferred him to serve. It was a little bit of extra pressure for me and I rushed things and tried to win the points too early or too fast. He just kept the ball in the court and he really didn’t do much in the last game. I made some mistakes – you don’t wait for him to make mistakes.”
“I hope I’ll be in form for the French Open and Wimbledon and I hope I don’t have to play against the top players right away because it’s the first matches which are the toughest ones,” he said of the forthcoming European Grand Slams. “I think I have a good chance in these tournaments if I’m stable enough, if I don’t go out of my mind and if I don’t take a holiday when I shouldn’t be taking one.”
The latter quip was a return to his trademark humour which is never far away in the press room, leaving fans and journalists alike counting the days until he is in action again in Madrid. When asked about the fact that Victoria Azarenka, Daniela Hantuchova and Melanie Oudin were watching his match today, a smile broke out. “Who was watching me play today? I’m becoming popular with the girls now! I’m flying home tonight and there in Latvia it is Saturday night…! (laughter) Vika is just an old friend and I think she likes the way I’m playing. I think she might want to learn something from me!”
After this week’s sterling performances, there will be plenty of players, WTA and ATP alike, who can learn from the Latvian.