Gulbis goes down fighting
Ernests may have been sent packing in the semifinals of Memphis but also began to display a much overdue sense of purpose and passion on court.
While in previous years the furthest Ernests went to acknowledge his own good play was with a wry smile, today he roared “C’mon!” each time a rifled winner found its target.
He was also prone to fold mentally instead of gutting it out through difficult patches, but recorded come-from-behind wins this week despite being a heavy underdog.
If this is a reflection of his renewed overall passion for tennis, then it bodes promisingly for a talented player often criticised for his lack of discipline and who answered, yes, he would like to be a Top 10 player, with the same mild detachment that one would reserve for rice pudding.
The hunger for success – dubbed by Andy Murray as ‘the love of winning, not just the hate of losing’ – is an often underrated component of a player’s arsenal. It is not enough to skate by on talent; single-minded determination to excel is what leads one to push himself just that little bit harder in training and to hang on in a difficult match.
Today, Ernests displayed some of that raw hunger against Sam Querrey, despite not quite having the presence of mind to put together a winning strategy.
The key difference between Ernests and Querrey – himself a heavy-hitting big server – lay in the former’s inability to convert any of the nine break points he enjoyed.
Ernests was broken once in each set but subsequently blew numerous opportunities to level the score, revealing his relatively limited return game as an Achilles’ heel.
He saved his best for when Querrey was serving for the match, earning five break points when 4:5 down in the second set with several clever volleys.
Alas, Querrey was not to be denied, despite having his nerves temporarily jittered by an over-excitable let cord sensor.
He clamped down on each of Ernests’ five opportunities with strong serving, aided by his opponent’s penchant for unforced errors, and ultimately secured safe passage into tomorrow’s final against John Isner.
Ernests will now head to Delray Beach, where he will open against a qualifier before potentially facing the top-seeded Tommy Haas, or Russia’s Teimuraz Gabashvili, against whom he has a 0-4 losing record.
Delrays marks the last stop on the Tour calendar before the first ATP 1000 event of the year kicks off in Indian Wells, California, on March 8th. As of today, Ernests is the top-ranked alternate and needs only one more withdrawal to make the main draw directly.