© Ella Ling

Ernests Gulbis

Is the real Ernests Gulbis finally standing up?

   

For a man who once said he owned “a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship”, Ernests Gulbis has never been afraid to make bold statements. And after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win the Open 13 in Marseille on Sunday, the ever-colourful Latvian came out with another.

“My long-term goal in tennis isn’t to be Top 20. It’s to be No. 1,” he said. “Anything less than that wouldn’t make me fully satisfied. I don’t want to get to 30 years old, look back on my career and say I didn’t make something of it. Everybody’s looking for satisfaction in life, and my joy and happiness is based on my tennis career.

Gulbis’s win in Marseille means he is now ranked in the top 20 for the first time in his career, belated fulfilment of his undoubted talent that has flashed into our sights from time to time over the past few years. It’s still hard to believe that the 25-year-old has the consistency to really make it to the top but it’s also great to see him finally making a genuine move.

There have been numerous false dawns in the past but having espoused hard training in the past, he is clearly working harder and his improved fitness means he is able to produce his top form more often. It’s not rocket science.

Having begun 2013 outside the top 100, he is on course for the award as most improved player but more importantly, he is a massive threat to the big names when it comes to regular tournaments and the grand slams.

“I think (the top players) feel threatened by my game because they know if I serve well and I’m aggressive, then it’s tough to play against me,” he said. “I don’t feel I’m in the same league as the top four yet, I need to prove it. (But) game-wise, I think that I can be.”

Should Gulbis make it into the top 10 and become a regular fixture in the latter stages of grand slams over the next few years (still a massive if, I grant you), then it would liven up proceedings, without doubt. Just last summer, Gulbis was busy explaining how all the top players were “boring” in their press conferences, something he could never be accused of.

Gulbis knows, however, that results are, in the end, what matters and it’s interesting to note that his record in finals is now 5-0. He is a big-match player, inspired by the big occasions. “It’s a really nice small record for me,” he said. “5-0 is really good. I remember when I used to play Futures and Challengers, I think I lost maybe one or two finals. When I get into finals I really have good form and good confidence and play my best tennis.”

Gulbis is not included in the all-time ATP Tour list for records in finals, beginning their statistics only when players have played a minimum of 15 finals. Out of interest, Thomas Muster tops the all-time list, with 44-10, ahead of Nikolay Davydenko (21-7) and Gilles Simon (11-4). It may be a surprise to see such names above the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal but then, when you think about it, Simon’s finals, for example, have come at a lower level, with usually a lower-level opponent than Federer and Nadal, who have fought out so many top-tier finals.

Perhaps Gulbis will find his way into that list at some stage and the good news is that he is talking a good game, when it comes to the future. “I’m very happy right now, but the reality is that you’re back on court in two days,” he said. “I want to keep both feet on the ground. There’s a couple of big tournaments coming up. It’s been a great week, but I want to build on it.”

Let’s hope he does.