Ernests Gulbis advanced to his first-ever Grand Slam semifinal at last year’s French Open, eventually falling to No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic in four sets. For his performance, Gulbis took away $550,000 in prize money, and promptly did what seemed logical.
“I went to [a] casino to gamble away a percentage of my winnings,” he said with a laugh.
“I was a big loser,” he clarified.
In fairness, Gulbis doesn’t need the money. Nor does his family. The 26-year-old playboy comes from one of the richest families in Latvia – “Yes, and I have a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship” – with a father in politics, a mother in acting, and a grandfather in film directing. Actually, he doesn’t care about the money at all – “It’s not a big issue for me. If you come from a poor family, you want to pull yourself up, you have a goal to earn money. I don’t have that goal.”
Does he have a drive to win? “I enjoy competing. I don’t like practicing.”
Does he just want attention? “I don’t care about fame. I don’t care about [it] and I’m not living for [it.]”
Maybe he’s in it for the ladies. In 2009, he was arrested in Stockholm for allegedly soliciting a prostitute – “When I meet a girl, I don’t ask her what her profession is.” He spent a night in jail, recalling the entire adventure as “great fun, a very funny time…I think every person should go to jail once.” He was released the next day, in time to play in the Stockholm Open.
Gulbis adorns his effortlessly handsome face with a messy stubble, in a sense the perfect metaphor for the unbelievable tennis potential that Gulbis is too busy to groom. He speaks Latvian, English and Russian, and enough French and German to find himself the same “funny time” that he enjoyed in Sweden.
Gulbis, currently ranked No. 18 in the world, had been a hot prospect since joining the ATP Tour in 2004. After dispatching No. 1 Roger Federer in the 2010 BNL Italian Open, the 21-year-old finally seemed ready to compete with the premiere titans of tennis for years to come, kept out previously by only lack of commitment. He eventually lost in the tournament to Rafael Nadal, but in the process became the first man of the calendar year to take a set from Nadal on clay.
While he is yet to see any Grand Slam finals action (he has six ATP Tour victories), Gulbis has been making it amusingly clear for most of his professional tenure that he doesn’t really care. “I enjoy having a goal. When you reach a goal, it’s okay, but also an empty feeling. When I won my first ATP tournament, I was happy for maybe 10 minutes.”
But that doesn’t mean he can’t make shots against tennis’ Big Four, or take shots against them, for that matter.
Like any tennis player, some of Gulbis’ shots stay in-bounds, and some go astray. Unlike any tennis player, though, Gulbis has the nonchalance to direct a conversation anywhere. Last year, when asked the seemingly innocuous question of how he felt about the tennis careers of his two younger sisters, Gulbis got himself into a bit of trouble.
After mentioning that he hoped his sisters would not pursue the hardships of a tennis career, Gulbis commented that, “a woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more…needs to think about family, needs to think about kids…What kids can you think about until age of 27 if you’re playing professional tennis?” For the record, his friend Maria Sharapova came to his defense. “I don’t think we can take everything serious when he speaks,” she said with a smirk when later told of the comments.
And then there are the times he dials up a massive rhetorical ace. “I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray but, for me, all four of them are boring players. Their interviews are boring. Honestly, they are boring as crap.”
His comments, especially regarding Federer, smell a bit of jealousy, but in classic Gulbis fashion, also offer an acute insight. “I do not want to hear in an interview a guy…who I know well thinks all his opponents are a**holes, putting on an act.”
So what does Ernests Gulbis want to hear? What is it that Gulbis is looking for? Well if he won’t say, than we know there’s certainly no way to guess. While the peers whom Gulbis calls “boring” are gnawing and clawing for every Grand Slam they can, Gulbis, it seems, lives to be unpredictable.
“I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do, because words are nothing.”
“When I beat the top players, then I will say what I feel and what I think. Now, they are just words.”