It was perhaps a little unfair that as Ernests Gulbis walked off of the stadium court after his loss to Alejandro Falla 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(8), the classic 80’s song “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers played over his exit. It’s not clear if that song was cued up anyway or if it was timed especially for the Latvian whose shaky form after being out of action for two months reached a boiling point when Gulbis was given a point penalty for smashing his racquet. In fact, at a key point in the final set tiebreak. Gulbis tossed his racquet one more time under the eyes of the chair umpire who could have disqualified Gulbis right there. But was Gulbis worried about that? Not at all.
After winning the first set 6-4, it looked like Gulbis would cruise to a comfortable win. Despite his groundstrokes looking rusty, Gulbis got a chance to break Falla early at 2-2, 0-40. But when he let Falla back in for deuce, Gulbis smashed his racquet earning a warning from chair umpire Fergus Murphy. Falla eventually held for 3-2 and when Gulbis lost his own serve at 3-4, Gulbis cracked another racquet onto the blue concrete which got him a point penalty warning with the first point going to Falla’s serve at 3-5, 15-0.
When Falla served out the second set 6-3, Gulbis calmed down and found his range again breaking Falla early and jumping out to a 3-0 lead. But more errors from the Latvian and steady play from Falla saw both men even at 4-4 before Falla broke for 5-4 but then saw his chance slip away when Gulbis used his favorite drop shot several times to break back at 5-5. Eventually the set entered a tiebreak and by then one figured Gulbis would figure out his game.
But instead it turned into another see-saw battle with both men daring the other to jump ahead. Falla found the range on his own drop shot and in a great exchange, it was Falla who hit a drop shot winner off of a Gulbis drop shot to get to 4-3. Gulbis saved a match point then hit a screaming forehand winner to tie things at 6-6. But it was when Gulbis served at 8-8 and eventually lost the point, he tossed his racquet at the net, then picked it up and slammed it on top of the tape right under Murphy’s chair. Murphy did nothing and allowed Falla to serve out the tiebreak at 10-8 after Gulbis netted a forehand.
In his press conference, Gulbis turned on his trademark charm and said he felt tired towards the end of the third set, hence the need for excessive drop shots to save his legs. When asked if getting a point penalty earlier on in the match surprised him, he said “This umpire (Murphy) likes to give out penalties like a policeman who gives out tickets. He enjoys doing it.” When later asked if he was worried that he might get defaulted out of the match, Gulbis said, “He wouldn’t do that. People pay money to see these matches and they like close tiebreaks so to end it like that would be stupid.” Finally when Gulbis was asked about his goals this summer, he said, “For me my goal is just to improve my form and improve my game like it was during clay court season. I don’t even think about trying to make semis or quarters of the U.S. Open right now.”
Falla himself also said he felt tired at the end of the match but didn’t let Gulbis’s emotions get to him. “I didn’t focus on that at all.” When asked about possibly meeting top seed Andy Murray in the next round, Falla expressed confidence by saying “I know I can play against the top guys like (Roger) Federer and Murray. I’ve beaten other top ten players so I know I can compete against these kind of players.”