Having Ernests Gulbis win ATP-level matches is good for tennis not just because, at his best, the 24-year-old Latvian can hit the ball with equal parts explosive power and deft touch. No, Gulbis has taken the torch from Marat Safin as the guy you go to for caustically self-deprecating and hilarious analysis of life as a professional tennis player on and off the court.
Coming from one of the wealthiest families in Latvia, Gulbis doesn’t play tennis for fame or fortune. Which means he’s willing to say anything. Two weeks ago, he talked about his love for the availability of marijuana in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This week, Gulbis, who won his first-round match in Delray Beach, Fla., and plays Sam Querrey on Thursday, was asked about his source of his motivation is these days — he’s dropped to No. 109 after a career high of No. 21 in 2011. Gulbis, in his inimitable way, said he didn’t like seeing less-skilled players ranked ahead of him.
“I was really getting pissed to see who’s in the top 100,” Gulbis said. “There are some guys who I don’t know who they are. Some guys, I’m sorry, with respect — they can’t play tennis.”
That statement was just the latest zinger from Gulbis. Here are some of his best quips and anecdotes (with thanks to James LaRosa for this highly entertaining 2011 interview with Gulbis):
• On spending a night in a Swedish jail in 2009 under suspicion of soliciting a prostitute: “It was great fun, but I’m never going to go to Sweden again in my life. If you go out and meet some girls, and immediately you’re put in jail, that’s not normal.”
“When I meet a girl, I don’t ask her what her profession is. I don’t ask if she’s a hairdresser or something else. I just meet her. And she meets me. She maybe doesn’t ask what I’m doing. Anyway, if she does ask, I usually lie; I say that I do nothing or I’m a musician or something. Suddenly, the police come and take me to jail, so I spend the night in jail for nothing, really nothing. So I’m upset with the Swedish government.
“It was very funny. I think every person should go to jail once.”
Here’s how he described the encounter in another interview:
“I went out, met a girl, asked her to come to my room, and they came and arrested me. I spent eight hours in prison. There were a couple of problems. One is that I had to [use the bathroom] like crazy and they wouldn’t let me for two hours. The other was, well, I watch these American movies and you get a phone call. They said in Sweden, we don’t have this rule.
“[I]t was nothing. They have many, many stupid rules, just like in your country [the United States].”
• On what a night out on the town with him would look like: “What do people do when they go out? They get drunk. To go out and not drink, I don’t understand it. If you go to a nightclub, what is to enjoy there? Nothing. The music is too loud, everybody’s sweating, everybody’s dancing, it’s dark, everybody’s pushing, everybody’s drunk. And if you’re the only guy sober in the nightclub, you don’t enjoy it at all. If you’re into the groove, you know, you have a couple drinks, you’re on the same level as the club, you can sometimes get something positive out of it. But it’s not what I like. I prefer to stay in my friends’ company, invite girls over, we have drinks in a normal quiet environment.
Also, when you’re in a tournament, you can’t drink. It’s just stupid. I believe tennis players shouldn’t drink at all. If I start drinking, I’m going to drink until the morning. I can’t go to a nightclub and drink four beers and I’m good. If I go out, I go full night out. I have nothing to do the next day, I can sleep, then afterward I go for a run or something like that. But if you’re in a practice week or in the middle of a tournament, there is no chance I’m going to go out.”
• On Russian vodka and America’s lousy beer: “I like pure vodka. Shots, with some nice food. Also, one very good drink which I like — you drink a shot of vodka and then you drink milk. The milk is very good for your stomach. After vodka, it calms you down. You don’t get the burning feeling. Try it.
“Vodka is dangerous. You really need to control yourself not to get a blackout. If you want to go easy, beer. I enjoy beer, but not this piss kind of beer you have in America.”
• On losing his wallet in Miami: “One girl asked me if I want to go for a swim. The nightclub was right by the ocean. I said, Yeah, sure, let’s go. So we went out on the beach. I left my wallet and my mobile phone inside her bag. We went for a swim for like 20 minutes. There was no people at all, it was a full moon, very beautiful warm weather, so we left her bag under a chair at the beach. We came back and nothing. So now I’ve been living here on my coach’s salary.”
• On not getting distracted by women during tournaments: “When I’m in a tournament, I don’t pay attention to those things. As strange as it sounds, I go to dinner with my team, I stay with them. What happens around, the girls, that’s … I don’t want to lose energy for that. If you meet a new person it takes energy, you know? If you meet a girl, I’m not ready to go in relationship with her straight away, so it’s like, What is in my mind? For every normal guy, in your mind is to get the girl in bed. As soon as possible. It all takes energy. In a tournament, I don’t do that.”
• On having sex before matches: “For a woman, I believe it can bring some energy. For men, it’s opposite. I don’t think it’s good.”
• On whether he has a girlfriend, in 2011: “Don’t worry about me. I have my own thing. I’ve never dated a girl. I don’t let her believe that she’s my girlfriend.”
• On his plans to celebrate his 23rd birthday, which came on the same day he won his first-round match at the 2011 U.S. Open: “I will go to sleep as fast as I can. Enough with the celebrations. I’ve had enough celebrations in my life.”
• On having no regrets: “I’ve done all the possible wrong things that you can do in a tennis career. But I’m very happy I made the mistakes that I did. That’s important to understand. They were my mistakes, not others’, and I learned from them.
“The mistakes are simple. After playing a good tournament, you get a week off. You can spend that week the right way, going for a one-hour run each day or going to the gym. Or you can do nothing like I did. You eat and drink whatever you want and not sleep at night. After that one week, maybe at 17 you don’t feel it. At 22 years old, you start to feel it. And you don’t play so well.”
• On playing doubles: “I’ll tell you one big secret. Singles players don’t care about doubles. Doubles is for practice.”
• On hiring former top-10 player Guillermo Canas (who once served a 15-month doping ban) as his coach: “I also have a bad reputation, in a certain way, so we suit each other.”
• On upsetting Tomas Berdych in the first round of Wimbledon in 2012: “I’m really happy that I didn’t choke in the end, as usual. I’m very well-known for mental strength. Ask around. Watch my previous matches.”
• On why he’s had some success at Grand Slam tournaments: “If you make it here, that’s it. You’ve done something in your life.”
• On the state of his career, in March 2012: “If I don’t make nothing out of this year, next year, that’s it, my career is over. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to break his body and everything when I’m 28. I don’t want to be like [Andre] Agassi, who started to play when he’s 30. I don’t want to spend all my life running around, warming up, and all that stress. … I’ll be doing nothing in the country house.”
• On winning three points in the second set of a 7-6 (1), 6-0 loss to Gilles Simon at the 2011 Sydney International: “OK, I made three points. Bad luck. Next time I will make four.”
• On whether he preferred to face Mardy Fish or 6-10 ace machine Ivo Karlovic in the 2010 Delray Beach final: “Better Fish, because he’s a normal tennis player. [Fish] serves well, but at least it’s understandable.” [Gulbis wound up beating Karlovic 6-2, 6-3 for the first of his two career titles.]
• On beating Roger Federer 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 at the 2010 Rome Masters, where he finally converted his seventh match point: “Well, I s— my pants a little bit, excuse my language.”
• On his early tennis training: “Until the age of 13 or 14, I practiced four or five times a week for a couple of hours each time. That way, I was really happy to go to practice. I was going to school, doing what regular kids do, and tennis was something I was really happy to do. I see kids who are 14 practicing six to seven hours a day. That’s crazy.”
• On breaking a lot of rackets: “They put so much effort into making those rackets and an idiot like me goes and breaks them.”
• On his love/hate relationship with the game: “I don’t hate tennis. It gets on my nerves a little bit when I’m playing badly.”
• On contemplating an early retirement, during a 2011 interview: “On one side, I don’t like tennis. I don’t like the traveling, I don’t like the attention, all the pressure. But on the other side, I’m thinking, What else would I do? I’m 22. Would I go to college, would I stay at home and do nothing, would I think about how to make some money, or would I live on my parents’ money? But no, I’ve decided I would prefer to play tennis.”
• On what he does with his, at times, unruly hair: “I think all the products are for girls. The body lotions, the creams, the makeup, whatever, is just for girls. Guys should be natural. Of course you have to take care of yourself, you have to go to shower, you know, so you don’t smell bad. The rest is just natural.”
• On the rumors that he travels to tournaments in his father’s private jet: “Yes, and I have a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship.”
• On coming from a wealthy family: “Because I come from a wealthy family, it’s more normal for me to have this money as a tennis player. It’s OK if it’s there, it’s OK if it’s not there. 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.
“The fire in me is that I want to prove to myself that I can do it, that I can be at the top. I don’t care about money, I don’t care about fame. I don’t like money and fame. I don’t need them and I’m not living for them.”