Tennis Prose



The Interview: Ernests Gulbis

By Amanda H. LeMay

At the Memphis tournament this year I had the great pleasure of getting to spend some time talking with Ernests Gulbis. He was incredibly gracious as well as super engaging and funny in the interview. I have always been his fan but after getting the chance to meet him in person I am even more convinced he is one of the nicest and most interesting guys on tour. Below is what he had to say. Do you know how popular you are?

Ernests Gulbis: No I don’t really know that. I don’t have Twitter, Facebook, nothing. Michal is making some pictures though. Maybe I will do it but I have to play better first. My ranking is low and I need to play better so people will want to hear from me. Actually I never went to Twitter at all. Have you ever Googled yourself?

EG: No never. How about youtube?

EG: No. Actually there is a youtube video of your match on clay with Milos. The little exchange with Lynn…

EG: The little exchange? (Yes with the double bounce.) There was no double bounce. We all saw that. You saw? (of course I did.) How about onsite fans then. Do you mind signing or pictures?

EG: No no. I don’t mind at all but the only thing is if I lost the match I don’t want to do anything at all. No autographs, no press, nothing. And also I really like it if the person asking for the pictures knows my name. Sometimes people come to me and ask what’s your name and basically I just make a joke so that I don’t have to make the picture with that guy because it’s useless. Any strange fan encounters?

EG: Honestly no. Everyone is pretty polite but I don’t hang out much around the courts. Just to get my credentials. In Memphis I had to say hello to the ladies there and I brought them a small present.. (more on this later) Do you mind the nicknames (Ernie, Erno, Gulby)?

EG: No whatever they want to call me they can call me. I’m an easy going guy. I don’t mind being called anything as long as it isn’t a bad word. Actually I don’t even mind that [laughs]. We are all glad that you’re back with Hernan.

EG: Oh I’m so very glad to be back. It’s been a tough last year because I’ve been changing a lot with the coaches. I was sick a lot. Ok I won one title but the last year was bad. But now this week, I don’t want to jinx it but I’m playing my top tennis as I used to play. If I win or lose that’s ok because I’m on the right track but I’m happy and it’s been good. Is Hernan going to be able to travel more with you this year?

EG: Yes he’s going to stay with me as much time as he can until Wimbledon and then maybe take some time off. But until then just to get me going. Now I’m already in a good way so he’s going to go back to see his family when I play Delray and then come back with me for Indian Wells and Miami. Then we will practice together in Barcelona and be together for the clay season so I’m covered until Wimbledon. Is he teaching you any Spanish?

EG: [Laughs] No but I trying to teach him some Russian. Any pre-match rituals or superstitions?

EG: Not really.. actually when you come to the tournament if you start with a win you do the same thing all over again for the next match. Same time warm-up, same time eat.. Do you even eat the same thing?

EG: Yeah… everything. But superstition.. we have a Russian tradition to spit 3 times over your left shoulder if you think something bad, so if you see me doing that on court [laughs] it’s a small superstition but I try to avoid it. Do you listen to music before you walk out?

EG: Not before I walk out but I am a huge fan of music. I have tons of music. (4 iPods full!) Wide variety of tastes?

EG: Yes. I don’t like when people say that they listen to all kinds of music but I really do. When I like an artist I try to dig deep, you know. Not just listen to one song. If I like someone I listen to the old albums, try to read about him, to know about him so I get to know his music a little better you know? About your tennis..What goes on in your head when you are out on court?

EG: Like say you are winning in a set but things start to turn around. Are you going crazy? What are you thinking? Well probably my first thoughts are that I’m planning my way out of here [laughs], where will I book the tickets, where will I go, how will I feel when I’m there… But basically that’s like two seconds of my time and then I know I don’t need to think about that so I push myself to be back on the court. A lot happens in your head. Everyone is the same.. it’s just how you deal with it. But with all due respect, you can be playing better than anyone in the world then suddenly…

EG: Yeah. I start to lose concentration. Maybe sometimes I’m already thinking that that’s it and the match is over and then sometimes I worry that it’s not over and I want it to be over faster. It’s like different thoughts and always you have to deal with different thoughts and I believe that the top players are playing without thoughts because the best game you play is the one when you aren’t thinking. Everything is through instinct… through reactions. You can’t make so many decisions in such a fast time with your brain. It’s coming from your subconscious. If you practice this through, I don’t know, some kind of meditation or concentration practices then you can manage. And do you practice this?

EG: Hmmm… well sometimes. You have to, you know? It’s a big part of the game. With mental strength you can play better than anybody.. which I sometimes do [laughs]… sometimes. Yeah it’s a big part. But do you really believe in a “mental coach” like supposedly Djokovic got one?

EG: You can call it however you want but basically it’s what happens in your own head. It’s how you deal with it. If someone needs someone to help him in that situation you can call it a mental coach, whatever. You can be interested let’s say in Buddhism and you get inspiration from that or a different religion or even watching interviews of top athletes like I don’t know Michael Jordon and then you take something for yourself and in those moments you start to realize what to do. So everybody is different. Somebody needs a mental coach. Somebody doesn’t. Somebody can figure it out on his own. Would you consider your career already a success? You have two titles, some big wins…

EG: No. What would it take to make it one?

EG: For sure a grand slam and then of course with it comes the top 10. Yeah I don’t know if I would even be satisfied with let’s say 10-12 in ranking. Of course I don’t know how it feels but just say when I was 20 in the rankings it wasn’t satisfying at all. I knew that I had to go higher because of the way I am. I understand that it is not my place to be number let’s say 30-40-50. It makes actually no difference if I am 30 or 70 – for me it makes no difference. It makes a difference how I play and now I feel like I am back playing well and it can happen at any tournament. I get a couple of wins here, a couple of wins next tournament and I can go far in the tournament. I am pretty confident about it. That makes me happy because last year I didn’t feel really confident during some periods.

Even in LA in first round I played not good tennis, won a tough match in 3 against Malisse. Next round I played a qualifier so that was an easy win. And then yeah against Del Potro I really didn’t do anything on court. I played a solid game and he didn’t play so solid that day and I won and that gave me confidence. In the semi-final and final I played really well. So I played two matches the way I wanted to play. Then in Montreal I was a bit unlucky because I could have gone far but I lost a tight match to Fish. The draw was open. I believe if I would beat him I would be in final. It’s all about confidence in tennis. You see Djokovic, he won a couple of matches, some tournaments, then you get so confident you believe you can’t lose. Do you plan to play the Olympics?

EG: Yes if my ranking if high enough. I believe you have to be around 60. Mixed with Sevastova?

EG: I don’t think she can get there. Too bad you can’t play with your sister… Yeah. Couple of years. [Smiles] She’s doing good though. Now being coached by the coach of Flavia Pennetta. She’s still small though. She’s not really a woman – still a girl and in women’s tennis if you mature faster you can play better. Can you hang playing golf with your brother?

EG: Yeah I played once. But I’m terrible. I played twice in my life golf [smiles]. So you never play at the tournaments like Indian Wells?

EG: It takes too much time and also I hate to be worse than somebody at anything and to play good golf you have to really spend a lot of time. So you’re very competitive at everything?

EG: Yeah. You have to be. Would you ever do the Tennis Channel bag check?

EG: [Laughs] Sometimes it’s very organized when Michal has organized it but, ah, my bag is a mess normally. Have they asked you to do it?

EG: No. But probably if I would be honest people wouldn’t talk to me after [laughs]. Trust me. So do you think it’s fake? You think they tell you ahead of time so you can put good stuff in the bag?

EG: Oh for sure. For sure they do. I would have to clean my bag a lot. Right now it’s Ok but after you’ve been traveling for a while it’s terrible [laughs]. Do you plan to stay with the Wilson racquet?

EG: Yes I think so. What about after your tennis career? Any thoughts of acting?

EG: Hmmm acting. Probably not but first of all it all depends on how much money I have after my career. If results come. If you have enough money you can act or do what you want and you can pay for it. Politics?

EG: No. No chance. I’m interested in lots of things. Art history. It just all depends on whether I have to do something after my tennis career to earn money or do I get to do something for fun. For like what I really like. What I really like is… I am still looking.. looking for which area I would go. Of course music I really like, art I really like. I’m learning to play guitar. I’m not going to be a musician but for fun. But yeah it all comes down to which state I am in financially and what stage of a man I will be when I finish my career. Would you ever consider working with tennis in Latvia?

EG: It’s a difficult situation because honestly close to nobody knows anything about tennis there. Even the Davis Cup team is a mess. Not the guys who have been traveling and playing. They’re Ok and they know. But the people who are around the team… it’s a mess. Even the captain has no idea. Really, it’s not like I am talking behind his back because I’ve told him but there is nobody else to put there. There is no one else who can take tennis to the next level. It could be me but in a couple of years because now it would take too much time. Maybe when I finish my career of course I could help but now I can’t watch what stage tennis is in Latvia. How was your time in Egypt for the Davis Cup?

EG: It was bad. First of all I got food poisoning first day. So I was staying in the room 24-7. Hotel was nice but stadium was bad. we had 2 bodyguards but really I feel safer without them than with them. They didn’t really care where we went. I didn’t go into the city but the guys did and the people on the street were not friendly. They were trying to sell you something and if you don’t want to buy it they tell you to go screw yourself basically, you know. They are saying go out of my country – why are you here if you don’t want to buy. What have you been doing here (in Memphis)?

EG: Well actually my food poisoning was not completely gone so I went to eat here some chicken wings (LOL!) which were really good but then it came back. My stomach couldn’t take it. But I’m OK now. Last time when I was here I went to Beale Street (local Memphis tourist attraction) and heard some good music. Not this time but I liked it last time. Milos is going to the NBA game… do you like to get out at night?

EG: No no. Not tonight. Maybe Milos will party?

EG: [Laughs] Milos cannot party. Milos is a big star. He has to show up at these kind of things. He’s top seed.
(He’s not top seed.) Oh well he is second then? See I haven’t looked at the draw. Do people recognize you at tournaments?

EG: Maybe at the site but not really otherwise. I don’t pay attention to those things much actually. I prefer to be more calm and enjoy and now I’m lower in ranking so everybody forgot about me. That’s not true! But we do want to know what happened to your curls?

EG: [Smiles and plays with his hair a bit] They’re growing back a little. I need to shave. Will you shave before your first match?

EG: I don’t know. If I’m not too lazy [laughs]. If you shave and you win do you keep shaving all week?

EG: No. But if I win and I have a beard I don’t shave at all. But the curls… well I was hot in Miami so I cut if off. I thought you only used your regular girl in Latvia!

EG: [Laughs] Yeah I let someone else touch my hair. And they did OK.

EG: Yeah they did Ok.

Just for note, in case some of you are interested in such things I did ask him about his relationship status to which he replied.. free, completely free and hopefully to stay that way for a couple of years.

Also, after the conversation with Ernests I asked the ladies at the credential office what he brought them and they said it was a crate of very nice white wine. When I asked them about the reason for the gift they said that when he was here 2 years ago they wanted to welcome him to the city and the tournament so they gave him a bottle of Russian vodka. So the wine was like a thank you for the hospitality when he was here before. Such a good guy!



  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Great interview Amanda, very well done. You covered so many areas and then some more ) . I didn’t know he had a younger sister who is a very good player. Just like Safin. When I spoke with EG in Delray two years ago, he reminded me a lot of Safin, a very intelligent, free thinker, funny and a likeable person. I first Biofiled Safin the year before he won the US Open, before he got really big. Quite similar people actually. Interesting about the Egypt Davis Cup experience and his thought process on the court, he’s very sincere and candid. I think playing golf or another sport would be good for him, when you only do tennis you can get burnt out on it and become too one dimensional, the body needs other athletic outlets which helps your tennis in the long run. Getting to play other sports, even if very casually, is good for the body and mind and I think golf or ping pong or basketball or shadowboxing or anything really would have a positive impact on EG’s tennis and heighten his passion for tennis. To be mediocre at another sport is okay feeling, it will make you a better overall athlete. Then when he goes back to tennis he will feel great again, to be doing what he does best. But this is a great interview, very interesting.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 24, 2012 at 3:23 am

    I like Gulbis. He’s a free-spirit and has beautiful athletic skills, but I’d say his chances of reaching the Top 10 and winning a slam are about the same as Richard Gasquet’s, and that’s an insult to Gasquet, who’s a much better player than Gulbis. I think Gulbis had his chance when he was younger, but he’s like Dolgopolov, but more so, they play any willy nilly way they like to play and that results in some beautiful tennis, but not any big time wins in big matches.

    Harrison is the exact opposite. He’s mature beyond his years, and plays a rather patterned game when he has the talent to open it up a lot more, but he seems too restricted to me. Losing to Rochus in Memphis is a bad loss.

  • Kelly · February 24, 2012 at 3:38 am

    What a fantastic, fun interview, Amanda! I really enjoyed it.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Amanda that was excellent. I agree totally. Gulbis really came through. His thoughts on what he thinks during the match are priceless – it really can be random or about booking airplane tickets. Makes me think that the players can even hear some of the yelling from fans.

    Tennis is definitely a gladiator sport!

    Interesting to me that not much mention of how Memphis is both a ATP and WTA tournament. Sounds like the ATP players and WTA players can be total strangers even if we fans look at them and think sheesh they must all know each other. It must be like one huge high school for them, of all ages.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Andrew, Dan can tell you about how players can hear fans or box members, like when Dan was in Spadea’s box at the US Open vs. Safin and Safin hung on to win in 5 sets and the first thing Safin mentioned at his press conference after was that guy yelling for Spadea the whole match (Dan). Fan support absolutely makes a difference and does get in players heads sometimes. Agree on EG’s humorous honesty about what he thinks about, booking airline tickets etc, that was funny. Amanda did a superb job I don’t know if anyone could have done a better interview with Gulbis than this one.

  • Jess Stein · February 24, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Love it. An interview from a true fan to get inside what’s going on in a player’s life.

    So Michal does everything? huh, including organising the bag. LOL.

  • loreley · February 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Great interview, Amanda and interesting comments as well. Thank you.

    Gulbis likes skiing in off-season. I don’t know if that counts as other sports. I also remember him telling that he was playing basketball against Karlovic in Delray Beach. He was even making fun of him, saying he outplayed him. His grandfather was part of the soviet basketball team. Won the European Championship. The athletic skills come from that side. So I guess he likes playing it when he gets the chance.

    About Harrison. Is he really that mature? I hear all the time that he is too hot tempered on court. Nice guy though.

    I have still faith in Gulbis, but I wish he would focus more. He gets frustrated and distracted too easily. The incident in Monte Carlos was so typicall. It’s true, the ball didn’t double bounce. It was Raonic who claimed it double bounced. He confused the umpire. He did something similar with Petzschner in Halle. Replay showed that the ball was in, while Raonic signalized it was out. Luckily Petzschner won at the end.

  • Mitch · February 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Interesting that money is a concern for him; from what I’ve heard, his father is one of the richest men in Latvia.

  • clay death · February 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    awesome interview amanda. i am glad you got to spend some time with e-gul. he is a very cool dude.

    and he has millions and millions of fans around the world.

    well done.



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