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Sixth seed Berdych ambushed by Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis celebrates after his upset victory over Tomas Berdych.
Monday 25 June 2012

Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, an unsung hero ranked 87th in the world, pulled off one of the classic first-day victories at Wimbledon with a straight sets victory over the sixth-seeded Czech, Tomas Berdych.

Gulbis came through 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 7-6(4) in two hours and 34 minutes, leaving Berdych and his record of considerable success at Wimbledon to walk bleakly from the Centre Court, his dreams in tatters. Berdych was runner-up at Wimbledon three years ago to Rafael Nadal, having beaten Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.

"I saw the draw and I was really happy.I wantedto play the first round against a tough opponent," Gulbis said.

"It motivates me much more,especially in the first round. The beginning of this year I really doubted a lot. I had a lot of thinking because I didn't like the way I was playing at all. I was too defensive,too uptight. I was thinking what to do and it was a tough time.

"I have been working hard last month with a new coach Gunther Bresnik who is based in Austria. I asked him to come to Paris and Wimbledon as well; it's been really good.

"He really helped me a lot (and) I have been practising well. In the practices I beat everybody."

The 26-year-old Berdych had fallen to Gulbis once before on a hard court, in Memphis in 2010, but that was a result of little significance compared to what happened today. The match was played out on a Centre Court which was initially bathed in sunshine but the shadows came moving across the court in a sequence which mirrored Berdych's difficulties.

The more Berdych sought to play himself out of the problems that Gulbis was creating the more the clearly focused Latvian dug deep, kept his nerve, kept his target in his range, and was rarely forced away from his task. Berdych found that the challenge against him was simply not going to fade away.

Gulbis had not won a Grand Slam match since last year's US Open and his previous best at Wimbledon was to reach the second round in 2008 and 2009. He simply made litle impact in Grand Slams, although reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2008 was a signal achievement.

With Berdych facing him this time, Gulbis started the match with three aces in the first game and served 11 as the first set fell to him in 43 minutes, a backhand cross-court winner sealing that crucial start to his eventual dominance.

In the second set Berdych lost his second service game, but regained it immediately and again the two players progressed to a tie-break without conceding further break points. But in the tie-break Gulbis jumped into a 5-2 lead, and four points later had an even more decisive lead. Berdych had his left thigh massaged before starting the third set but there was not much he could do to stem the irrepressible optimism and boldness of Gulbis.

The noose began to tighten on Berdych in the third set but he was not prepared to let Gulbis through without sterner resistance. Berdych saved two break points in the eighth game and then saved three match points in the 10th game: one with an ace timed at 131 mph; a second with a fine volley; and a third when Gulbis missed a backhand.

There is no question that Berdych would have been expecting to be in the shake-up for the final stages of this year's Wimbledon. Maybe he just did not expect such a fired up and sustained challenge conjured up by Gulbis on a day he will never forget.

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