After making a name for himself this spring on the European clay, including a win over Roger Federer, Ernests Gulbis had to put his surging game and popularity on hold after suffering a hamstring injury at the French Open that forced to him retire in his first round match there and then later pull out of this year’s Wimbledon.
But after a lengthy break, Gulbis and his trademark style (both in his game and demeanor), made a winning return in the first round of the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Lukas Lacko. The match saw Gulbis hit plenty of drop shots, earn a ball abuse warning and try multiple attempts to tame his frizzy hairdo. But what else would you expect from the Latvian wunderkind?
Lacko, who defeated Lleyton Hewitt last week in Atlanta, was a steady enough player to give Gulbis a tougher than expected match. Gulbis’s serve was really the only consistent part of his game today. Serving 11 aces with a few clocking in at over 132 mph, Gulbis relied on his serve to make up for an inconsistent game that allowed Lacko to hang with the Latvian for most of the first set until Gulbis broke serve to take it 7-5.
In the second set at 1-1, Gulbis found himself down 0-40. Angry at himself, Gulbis smashed a ball out of the stadium earning him a ball abuse warning. That seemed to fire up Gulbis who finally held and then broke Lacko for 3-1. But even after jumping out to 4-1 lead, multiple errors and some passive play from Gulbis allowed Lacko back in at 4-4. Gulbis was able to grab a match point on Lacko’s serve at 4-5, 30-40 but it took Lacko playing a loose game while serving at 6-5 to finally give Gulbis the match off of a forehand winner.
Gulbis looked healthy but did a lot of a stretching on the court especially towards the end of the second set. Afterwards in a brief post-match interview, Gulbis said he felt fine and expressed that as long as he plays well in L.A. and at upcoming tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, he’ll be ready for the U.S. Open. Gulbis was able to let loose with his charm when asked about how he was enjoying the Southern California weather. Gulbis quipped, “I would love to move here but I would have to play little better tennis to afford the expensive houses out here. Or maybe just get an apartment.”
Gulbis will now take on the winner of the Alejandro Falla/Karol Beck match tomorrow. In other results from Monday’s action, Rainer Schuettler and Janko Tipsarevic advanced to the second round while Steve Johnson, Tim Smyczek, Somdev Devvarman all earned main draw qualifying spots.
(Be sure to visit ATN’s Facebook page for more photos and video of Gulbis’s match, which you can find here.)