Over the years, Ernests Gulbis has come to be widely associated with and often compared to Marat Safin. I get it, I really do. They’re both lazy, laid back free spirited under-achievers with great talent. When you look at their games, the similarities between the two are even more prominent. However, the comparison is simultaneously so, so wrong.
There is no doubt that Marat Safin ticked all the aformentioned boxes. But he will be remembered just as much for his looks, charisma and craziness as he will be for the fact that there were numerous times when he did bring discipline and seriousness to his game, and when he did it was quite simply un-freaking-believable. Anyone who managed to see either his US Open final demolition of Pete Sampras or the unbelievable 5-setter epic vs Federer in Australia knows exactly what I’m talking about. Some say that though he finished his career with 14 slams less than Federer and 12 less than Pete Sampras, at his best he reached a level far higher than both players. I don’t disagree.
On the other hand, here we have Mr Ernests Gulbis. Again, they certainly share similar characteristics, but while Marat still went on to achieve great things, Gulbis is about as relevant to the ATP tour as a clown is to a Shakespearean tragedy. Yesterday he reaffirmed that embarassing irrelevance by falling in straights sets to Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic in the first round of Roland Garros. And the stats speak for themselves; that loss meaning that he has lost 6 straight Grand Slam first round matches. Six. His last win at Grand Slam dates all the way back to Wimbledon.
One thing that really annoys and frustrates me about him is that he really seems to take pride in this “bad boy” persona and the Safin comparisons. In an interview to the Independent earlier this year, he came across as almost boastful about his lifestyle, speaking about his celebrations and partying after losing to Nadal on a couple of occasions, he said;
“We arrived in Riga at one o’clock in the morning and we went straight to a nightclub. I can’t remember how late we stayed. I met some friends. Then afterwards I went back with them to my apartment.”
“[I] went back to Latvia and had the best week of my life. Obviously it didn’t do my tennis much good, but I had fun”
He may still be only 22 years old, and the vast majority of 22 year olds do love to party, but the time will soon come when he’ll have to decide whether he wants to simply remain an insignificant little comic device in the large soap opera of professional tennis, or if he wants to dedicate himself fully to tennis and maximize his shining potential. As a fan of both him and his game, I really hope and pray he chooses the latter.