Ernests Gulbis is a tennis player from Latvia whose career-high rank is No. 38 in the world. He first attracted attention with a string of promising results on the Futures and Challenger circuits, winning his first Challenger in Eckental in 2006 at the age of 18.
In 2007 he burst into the public consciousness by an impressive Grand Slam debut performance: he beat Tim Henman in straight sets in Roland Garros and demolished the eighth-seeded Tommy Robredo in the third round of the US Open.
Ernests stands at 6’3″ and plays right-handed with a two-fisted backhand. He has a powerful serve and a lethal forehand, though it is the less stable wing compared to his backhand. Ernests has been coached by Karl Heinz Wetter since October 2007.
Ernests is the second child in an extended family of five siblings. The eldest, Elīna, used to attend law school in England while his younger half-sisters, Laura and Monika, play tennis and are amongst the best in their age groups in Latvia. His teenaged half-brother, Kristaps, is reported to be interested in building model cars and planes.
His mother, Milēna, is a former model and actress. Her CV includes the critically-acclaimed thriller, City Unplugged (Tallinn pimeduses). She is the daughter of Latvian filmmaking great, Uldis Pūcītis.
Ernests’ father, Ainārs, is an influential businessman who used to play basketball for ASK Riga before being beset with injury. He has now become a staple figure around overseas tournaments, where he almost always travels to accompany Ernests – a reponsibility he shares with Milēna.
Ainārs’ father, Alvils Gulbis, is also an accomplished sportsman. The older Gulbis was one of the starting five players on the USSR basketball team which won the European Championship in 1958. Ernests remarked that he strayed from the family tradition of basketball because he was “more like an individual guy – I wasn’t a team player.”
Ernests speaks three languages: Latvian, Russian and English – which he picked up from watching cartoons when his mother took him to England as a child. He is also familiar with German.
Off the court, Ernests prefers to indulge in classic movies and literary works. He considers football (soccer), hockey and basketball as his favourite sports.
“I was a really active small guy – with a ball all the time…”
Ernests first played tennis when he was five, after his grandmother, Irina, introduced him to the sport. He then started training with his first coaches, Valdis Ginters and Alvis Tabors, in Lielupe. He became the Under-10 Latvian champion when he was nine and remained the national champion in his age group for several years.
At the age of 11, he was coached by Daiga Juška (the mother of fellow Latvian pro, Andis Juška) and started participating in European tournaments one year later. He also spent some time training in Spain.
Ernests enrolled in the Niki Pilić Tennis Academy in Munich when he was 13. Initially, he only attended training camps there twice a year as he was still in primary (equivalent to lower secondary) school in Latvia.
After completing the nine years’ compulsory basic education, Ernests started training in Munich full-time. Niki Pilić – head of the academy and former Davis Cup captain – at first decided that he was no longer interested in personally coaching an individual player. However, the Croat changed his mind and decided to take Ernests under his tutelage.
Ernests turned professional in June 2004, when he was 15. Having won three Challenger titles at the age of 18, he also caught the eye of watchful tennis fans in 2006 when he reached the semi-finals of ATP St Petersburg as a wildcard ranked 204th in the world, where he lost to eventual champion Mario Ančić.
He has represented Latvia in the Davis Cup since the age of 16, and holds a 7-4 win/loss record in the singles.