Gulbis falters on the yellow brick road
At times during his opening match in Melbourne, Ernests looked like he was wishing that he, too, had a pair of ruby slippers to spirit him away from Oz.
His opponent, the thirtieth-seeded Juan Monaco, was infinitely more benign but no less dangerous than the Wicked Witch of the West.
The talented Argentine had a history of inconsistency but was well eclipsed by Ernests, who looked on edge from start to finish.
The Latvian slammed down a top serve speed of 214kmph but brute force does not equal glory: a lesson empathically driven home by his 73 unforced errors – including seven double-faults – which was tantamount to gifting Monaco with more than 16 free games.
In contrast, the steadier Monaco committed only 31 unforced errors and won 113 of the total points played to Ernests’ 87.
This was an abrupt comedown to Earth after Ernests displayed such a promising start to the season in Doha, where he was on the verge of putting Roger Federer’s head to the guillotine.
He declined a wildcard to play in Auckland in favour of spending the last week before the first Slam of the year acclimatising himself to the vagaries of Melbourne weather.
Unfortunately for him, it was a gamble that did not pay off.
It is much too premature to judge, based on this one performance, whether it is merely a blip in the trajectory of his progress or if his coaching change at the end of the previous season is a case of “same old, same old.”
With three weeks until his next tournament in San Jose, Ernests would do well to ponder over the relative merits of plugging away on the ATP tour, floating between narrowly making the main draw and playing in the qualifying, versus regaining confidence and match practice on the Challenger circuit. The quality of opponents on the Challenger level is nothing to scoff at, and reaching the later stages of such a tournament carries more ranking points than early Tour losses.
Ultimately, however, the decision is his to make and supporters can do no more than to hope, for his sake, that he makes the correct one.