As so often happens at The Championships, a giant-felling performance can be followed by a swift descent to reality. So it was for Ernests Gulbis, a second round winner over the No.6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and a heavy third round loser on No.3 Court today to Fernando Verdasco.
The Spanish left-hander’s 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory was probably more easily accomplished than even he had expected, aided as it was by some erratic play from the Latvian, perhaps still a little light-headed from having got to the last 32 of the Gentlemen’s Singles here for the first time in six attempts.
Gulbis is more highly ranked at No.39 than Verdasco (54) thanks to capturing the Delray Beach title in March, which lifted him from the 139 with which he closed the 2012 season, but he had lost two of his three previous contests with the Spaniard, all of them played on clay.
He was entitled to think that he might be able to overpower his more experienced opponent on the turf of Wimbledon, but in fact it was Verdasco who struck the ball with more force, and certainly more accuracy. Verdasco’s serve, particularly from the ad court, had Gulbis in all sorts of trouble, and it was not until the third set that the Latvian managed his lone break point of the match. No surprise on the day that he failed to convert it.
Perhaps he is not happy with morning starts, but Gulbis seemed edgy from the word go, complaining about talkative spectators and movement in the stands. All this was duly noted by Verdasco, a 29-year-old whose accuracy has been honed by years on clay. Unlike the majority of top male professionals, he is also a doubles player, a fact made evident by the neat stop-volley with which he broke Gulbis in the third game of the opening set.
Gulbis was never within two points of a service break himself as Verdasco relentlessly consolidated that early advantage with rock solid tennis, and in the second set he became even meaner on serve, conceding just three points in five games. In a repeat of the first set, Gulbis was broken in the third game despite delivering one of his nine aces, but another ace was more effective, averting a set point in the ninth game before Verdasco served his way to a two-set lead.
Gulbis got his act together more profitably in the final set and in the second game clocked up that lone break point, at the same time receiving a warning from umpire Pascal Maria for time wasting. This time the Latvian made it as far as the fifth game before being broken, the normally undemonstrative Verdasco celebrating with a double pump of the fist. He was certain he had just struck the killer blow, and he was right. The unforced error statistics told the story: Gulbis committed 19, Verdasco just seven.
Gulbis was named by his father, a rich businessman and collector of books, after one of his favourite authors, Ernest Hemingway, with the addition of an ‘s’ to give it a touch of Latvian flavour. If he has read ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, Ernests Gulbis would have acknowledged that today it tolled for him.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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