Top 8 seeds: David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, Stanislas Wawrinka, Albert Montanes, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Juan Monaco, Juna Ignacio Chela
Points of interest: How about a first-round meeting between Thomaz Bellucci and Fernando Verdasco? There’s also the question of how new kid on the block Milos Raonic, due to play Carlos Berlocq in the opening round, will respond after his astonishing last couple of weeks – and on a different surface too. And, you know, Ferru.
Oh, and there’s always the question of whether everyone will make it out alive, particularly after this.
Top 8 seeds: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, Mikhail Youzhny, Ivan Ljubicic, Viktor Troicki, Marcos Baghdatis, Ernests Gulbis
Points of interest: This was the first title Novak had ever defended in his career, but he’s got a tough road to make it a third year in a row; starting off with Michael Llodra, match-tough from Marseilles. In contrast, Federer’s quarter looks rather lightweight. Keep an eye out for an unseeded Nikolay Davydenko lurking about, and note the first-round meeting of qualifier Grigor Dmitrov and Richard Gasquet. Battle of the Baby Feds …
250, Ernests Gulbis defending (or not, given that he’s opted to go and lose in the first round of Dubai instead); draw here.
Top 8 seeds: Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Janko Tipsarevic, Benjamin Becker, Adrian Mannarino
Points of interest: Another American hard court tournament in spring, another brace of Americans, none of whom (with the exception of Roddick, who is clearly ill and may or may not play) particularly impressed last week in Memphis. But there’s a lot of interest in this draw: Dudi Sela, due for a rematch with Roddick; Julien Benneteau and Ivo Karlovic, both making their way back from injury, starting off with Ivan Dodig and Janko Tipsarevic respectively; former champion Kei Nishikori; and of course Delpo, Delpo, Delpo and Delpo, who will be playing Richard Berankis in the first round. Fair warning: he will probably lose to Berankis, who’s an infuriating bundle of counter-punching energy. Unfair warning: if he does, I’m cliffing myself.
Check out this fantastic interview from Ir magazine (apparently) with everyone’s favourite little hellraiser, Ernests Gulbis. It’s long, but it’s a great read. Although to be honest the best part is probably the pictures …
For the tennis player Ernests Gulbis (21) sport isn’t everything in life. He doesn’t think about tennis all the time and is not a fan of the sport enough to motivate him to practice 7 hours a day.
He isn’t full of himself. It’s the other way around – he’s down to earth, exact in his opinions and free to express his emotions, with a sense of humor, knows a lot about literature, music and the way society is functioning. What a cool guy! Sounds different than what they wrote about Ernests before, right? Right! Up to this point, throughout the Latvian press there have been posted either the match results or the paparazzi stories translated from other countries’ press, of course focusing on things such as prostitutes, suicide attempt and how rich Ainars Gulbis is. Also, it is assumed that Ernests doesn’t give interviews. That assumption isn’t entirely correct – a year ago he gave a long interview to the sporto.lv website. Ernests simply doesn’t participate in all of the interviews he’s asked to give.
I tried my luck and called his father. He responded to me. My personality wasn’t the deal breaker – Ainars Gulbis likes the magazine IR. I promised not to ask Ernests those questions which he was growing tired of and killed his desire to give interviews: e.g. how do you feel before a match, how do you feel after a match, how does it feel to win, what do you expect to achieve.
Due to a muscle trauma Ernests spent a week in Latvia and was able to spend 2 hours for our interview. We met the Saturday after Jani on a motor yacht in Andrejsala. This is not going to be a deep sports interview. Neither it will talk about tje father’s strong influence on his son. It is time to put an end to those talks. Especially because Ernests himself is a good speaker and has things to say.
You were in Latvia during the Jani celebration. How was it?
The last time I celebrated Jani in Latvia was when I was 7 years old – I was shooting a beer can with my little pistol and was very happy about it. All other years I spent in London, Germany. This year I was at my friend Karlis’ place, here in Riga. There was no bonfire, I jumped into a pool wearing all my clothes.
Do you have friends here in Riga?
Yes. Tennis players, schoolmates from the second middle school and some people I met in the last few years. It’s a small group of people. Sometimes they come to one of my tournaments, or wait for me in Latvia. With the tennis players we have a football team – the Tennis Flower.
Why do you reside in Latvia, whereas many tennis players choose to live in Monaco or Nice?
Because of the taxes. Part of the players live in other countries because their own countries have imposed a tax which should be paid at the tournament location, as well as the place where it’s held. Since Latvia doesn’t have those rules, it saves me money to call Latvia my home. (Editor’s note – Latvia has a tax deal with 50 countries, excluding Russia) If changes are made to these rules, then I’d have to think of some other place to settle in. I would like to stay in Latvia, though. Beautiful nature – the sea, plenty of waters. When I own a house, it will definitely be near water.
What other countries do you like?
Russia. I am not very fond of America, except for New York and Las Vegas. It might seem to others that this life of constant traveling is a dream come true, that you are able to see so much, but in a day I barely have 2 hours of free time. When I was at the Pilic Academy, I lived in Munich – I liked it. Once I parted from the coach, I moved.
You make it sound like you broke up with your girlfriend and not the coach.
But that too is a real relationship! Almost like a husband and a wife. Every day together. You know – small things that bother you, and you can easily start a fight?! It is hard to have the patience for a person for 5 years in a row. This way I learned how to have a better relationship with my father.
Three players from whom much was expected bit the dust today at Roland Garros on the very first day. Ernests Gulbis, two sets and a break down to Julien Benneteau, was forced to retire in the third after pulling a hamstring (or what looked very much like an arse muscle, whatever you call that) sliding for a wide ball.
“When I returned a serve, 2 1, second set, I stretched my leg, my hamstrings, and I heard two cracks. I don’t know what is it, so I’m going to go to MRI to hospital in 20 minutes and check it. I hope it’s nothing serious, because it can be anything, but it’s for sure like a little bit stretch of the muscle, but I hope it’s not here. So we’ll see. Of course I’m disappointed. I prepared really good for this tournament, but it’s okay. It’s a Grand Slam, it’s a big tournament. But I have maybe nine more, eight more years of my career, I will have 20 Grand Slams in front of me, and if I concentrate on one, which wasn’t that good, I will get nothing, but it’s okay.”
It’s really bad luck that he got injured and I hope he gets better soon. But I don’t think the result would have been that much different had he not been hurt, because Julien ‘Lamb’ Benneteau was having one of his occasional days when he plays like a top 10 player. He’s beaten Roger and played Nole close before, and from what I saw, Ernie would have had to have been serving at least 15-20% better to really impose himself on the match. Just my opinion and a well-deserved win for Benneteau.
It was a sad day too for Rome champion Maria-Jose Martinez Sanchez, from whom much was expected especially given her position in the weaker bottom half of the draw. She strained her back during the warm-up and went down tamely to Akgul Amandurova, 62 64.
And in what was technically but not actually the biggest upset of the tournament so far (all one day of it), Victoria Azarenka lost 61 62 to Gisela Dulko. I thought this would be the outcome as soon as I saw the draw, frankly; not only is Vika no clay-courter, she’s retired three times since Miami – the last time in Madrid – and has barely had time to get her feet under her. It’s a good win for Dulko, but she didn’t really have to do that much.
Update: Please note that polls will stay open until midnight GMT tonight, in the grand electoral tradition. There’s still time to campaign …
So. It’s time to face up to the elephant in the room. Even the most optimistic estimates acknowledge that we are facing a long, barren summer/autumn/winter/future without Delpo on the tour, and whatever news we do get about him is likely to be depressing. It’s also true that, for some inexplicable reason, Delpo has become the main mascot, poster-boy and raison d’etre of New Balls, Please. He’s our tagline. He’s the majority of my posts. And while it’s safe to say that this will always be the case, now that the first shock of the news has worn off and the reality of Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Davis Cup and almost certainly the US Open without him is sinking in, the mind turns inevitably to coping strategies. Not for me personally; enough drinking will almost certainly take care of that. For this increasingly sporadic blog of mine.
Henceforth, I propose the following: the immediate adoption of an interim ultrafave as the stand-in recipient of my most obsessive blogging attention. I’ll do my best to watch his matches and rhapsodise about them or bewail them at length; I’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest news about him, no matter how trivial; and I won’t let a week go by without posting new (or old but suitably appealing) photos, no matter how specious the excuse. I’ll even change the tagline of the blog to reflect the shift in focus. And in the spirit of election day in Great Britain (I get excited about voting, OK?), I thought I would make this a democratic decision and hold a poll. Obviously whoever it is will probably get dumped like yesterday’s empties when Delpo comes back, but in the meantime … You, the reader (there may only be one of you these days), will decide.
So, without further ado, I present to you my shortlist for the stand-in mascot of New Balls, Please.
Cons: I’ve been anywhere between ambivalent and downright mean about him in the past, thus risking increasing my well-established (and deserved) reputation for fickleness; only known bromance is with Steps; frequent discussion of his sandwich-avoiding girlfriend will also probably be necessary; he may find out about me and eat my liver.
Suggested tagline: “New Balls, Please: Feeding the masses on Lucie Safarova’s leftovers.”
Cons: Not that much actual news about him, so I would have to make it up find some.
Suggested tagline: “New Balls, Please: Nobody nose Bellucci like we do.”
Pros: former Wimbledon boys’ champion trying to make it on the tour, offering you a unique chance to get in on the next big thing very, very early; prolific tweeter; supplies a lot of his own cute photographs; well-established bromance potential.
Cons: would force me to blog a lot about Challengers and Futures and such; potential massive loss of investment if he isn’t, after all, the next big or even a thing.
Suggested tagline: “New Balls, Please: In three years’ time, we’ll look amazingly prescient. Maybe.”
Pros:Starting to capitalise on his huge talent (not a euphemism); hilarious press conferences; never dull.
Suggested tagline: “New Balls, Please: Where we’d do Ernests Gulbis for free.”
So those are the candidates – but only you can decide. Please cast your vote, and then elaborate on your choice/suggest alternative taglines/ let me know who should have been on the shortlist and why in the comments. Remember: destiny is in your hands.
(Please note that I’m going to do what I want regardless of your vote, just as soon as I’ve figured out what it is I want. I did say this was inspired by the UK’s general election.)
Sorry for the long hiatus in posting. It was a bank holiday here in the UK and that means a lot of, well, not sitting in front of a computer. Then I was too depressed to blog. But I’m here, my sexual orientation is none of your business, and let’s have a look at what I missed over the weekend, shall we?
Rafa won the Rome Masters for the fifth time in six years. This is the sort of thing that happens. It’s his 17th Masters title, equalling Andre Agassi’s record. That sort of thing happens more rarely. And it’s Madrid next week, so who wants to take bets on how long that record is going to stand? Anyone?
Spare a thought for Ferru, though, who beat Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (thanks to AmyLu for the reminder!) and Fernando Verdasco to reach the final, only to be soundly beaten … again.
Just go hang out with Boss, David. At least he buys you dinner when he beats you.
While we’re thought-sparing, how about Fernando Verdasco? He outlasted Djokovic in a three-set epic, only to run out of gas against Ferru – understandably, after his excellent showings in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona. Nobody’s going to want him anywhere near them in the draw in Madrid – or Paris.
The same (ish) goes for Ernests Gulbis, who backed up his win over Federer by reaching the semis and becoming the first player to break Rafa’s serve or take a set from him all week. Can we consider him tennistically resurrected?
Meanwhile in Stuttgart, other oddly familiar things were afoot.
Justine Henin beat Samantha Stosur for the first title of her comeback. I can’t quite figure out how I feel about Justine these days. But that’s by the by to a hearty well done. Going to give a shout-out though to Sam Stosur – she really can play on clay, if that Roland Garros semi-final didn’t clue you in already – and Anna Lapushchenkova, who qualified into the draw and beat Govortsova, Azarenka and Safarova on her way to the semi-finals. The jury’s out on whether she’s a thing, but I thought she played really well all week.
On the subject of people who might be things, the de-boobed Simona Halep reached the finals of Fes in only her third tour event.
She lost to Iveta Benesova, but still.
And that is what happened while I was on a bender. I think.
Biggest shock ever/mildly surprising result (depending who you ask) in Rome today as Ernests Gulbis came back from a set down to hand Roger Federer his earliest defeat at this event in seven years.
I didn’t see the match and I’m not really sure what to think about it. I do find the fact that Ernie apparently squandered six match points, including two double faults, before serving it out to love, somehow delightfully reassuring. He said afterwards:
“I couldn’t put a serve in […] I was shaking. I didn’t know what to do. It was a terrible feeling.”
Or, according to possibly more frank sources on twitter, he admitted to “shitting his pants”. Which Roger won’t be doing.
“You cannot be 100 per cent all the time,” Federer said. “Sometimes it takes a loss like this to wake up and shake your mind. It can be that things are too simple, and days like this make you realise how difficult it is to dominate the tour. I didn’t feel safe at any time today, my game wasn’t up to its normal standard. Of course Roland Garros is in the back of my mind but I have two tournaments to get the wins I need. And I’m still in the doubles.”
As for Ernie, I’m feeling more and more like he’s destined to be a dangerous floater; the guy who drives his fans to distraction, but who none of the top seeds want to see in their part of the draw. I’m not convinced yet about his ability to put together back-to-back wins with enough frequency to be, say, a fixture in the top 10 despite all his talent, but there are more deep runs at Slams in his future. What do you think?
“I just started concentrating more on tennis, treating it more like my job,” Gulbis said. “Last year I didn’t take it as a job. It was more like a hobby. I didn’t have a system.
“Before I was practicing maybe three days and then going out with friends two days. I’m still not a big tennis freak … but I have a better system. My team is perfect now. It’s my coach, my fitness coach and my father.”
Imagine what he could accomplish if he ever became a ‘big tennis freak’. The mind boggles.
Congratulations to two first-time titlists this week. Alisa Kleybanova upset Elena Dementieva 63 62 in Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Open title. I didn’t see the match, but Kleybanova must have put in a really impressive performance for that kind of scoreline against Demmy. Good stuff.
And in Delray Beach, Ernests Gulbis didn’t drop a set all week on his way to his first ATP title, defeating Ivo Karlovic 62 63 for the trophy. I did not see that coming.
I have to confess I’ve kept no more than a little finger on the Ernie wagon after 2009’s endless disappointments and solicitation scandals. But for those of his fans who have been less than fair-weather, this must feel amazing – and it’s just great to see someone with so much talent showing signs of capitalising on his early promise. Celebrations all round.
Ernests Gulbis was a no-show! Mathieu Rodrigues, ATP 410 who turned 24 today, knocked up with the ball-kids, waited for 15 minutes while the crowd sang “’appy burssday” (with a French accent) and then strolled into the second round. He was an alternate – i.e. he was only here because other higher-ranked players did not sign up for qualifying – and now he is only two sets away from making it into the main draw. Poor show from Gulbis though – a no-show like that won’t enhance his already somewhat flaky reputation. A poor end to a poor season for such a talented young man.
Really well done on that one, Ernie. Although shouldn’t the tournament have some way of checking that players are actually in the country before they call their matches? Such as, I don’t know, some form of register?
Also: does this count as breaking the whereabouts rule?
So according to Joachim Johansson’s blog, the ATP player fined for solicitation was … drumroll … Ernests Gulbis.
*artist’s rendition of the discovery process
“Monaco fick sent igår kväll reda på att han blivit anklagad i argentinsk press för att han var den skyldige spelaren som köpt sex under helgen trots att Gulbis redan erkänt.”
“Monaco found out last night that he was accused in the Argentine press of being the player who bought sex during the weekend, even though Gulbis has already confessed. He will probably have a difficult time before the match on Wednesday. I’ll try to take advantage of it early in the match …”
Doesn’t seem to be any official confirmation as yet. I’ve heard that the other player is Deivids Juksa, a buddy of Ernie’s (thanks Bismarck for that info).
Just out of interest, does the ATP/ITF/PTBs have any power to impose sanctions after an incident like this? I mean, I get he probably wasn’t paying for sex during an actual match, but if you can be put under investigation for screaming at a line judge, what about breaking the, you know, law? Just a thought.
UPDATE: Pim-Pim seems to have incompetently edited his blog to remove the reference. Yeah, you see that bag, Joachim? It doesn’t have a cat in it.