Lost Talents

Marin Cilic’s defeat in the first round of the French Open to 33-year-old Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo compounded what has been a tough year for the former top 10 player.

The Croatian was seeded 19th but lost in straight sets a man whose only Grand Slam victories came in the 2006 French Open, where he reached the fourth round.

Now world number 20 Cilic is likely to drop further down the rankings when only last year he sat at number nine following an impressive Australian Open semi-final run.

So what has happened to the once lauded young talent and former French Open junior champion? Well 67 unforced errors doesn’t help and certainly aided his downfall against Hidalgo but there are aspects of his game which need improving.

When looking at his only ATP final appearance this year in Marseille compared to his Australian Open quarter-final there are notable differences.

The first is the movement. Some of the shots Robin Soderling produced in Marseille were reachable but Cilic either stood still or gave up trying to make the return.

Another thing is his reading of the game. Against Andy Roddick, Cilic anticipated the ball’s placement and the American’s shot selection much better.

And also he can’t rely solely on his serve. At 6′ 6” it’s a great weapon to have, smashing in aces on your own service game but it’s not enough to win you matches against the top players. Ivo Karlovic and John Isner have yet to learn that lesson as well.

Mentality is also key. I heard American youngster Irina Falconi say after her first round defeat that tennis is “100% physical and 100% mental”.

Cilic has spoke before of feeling nervous before big matches, something I’m sure most players experience, but if it gets to you during the match then you’re more than likely going to crumble.

Marin Čilić on the receiving side

Another first round exit came in the form of Ernests Gulbis whom I’ve written about before. Back then I admit my thoughts on Gulbis’ similar ranking ‘injustice’ were sketchy but after more thorough research I’ve come to realise how important mentality is.

One thing I labelled Gulbis was a “headcase” and I stand by that. His interviews are often light-hearted and clichés are rarities, which is nice and different but some of the things he comes out with raise eyebrows over commitment issues.

Upon publication Gulbis fans hated me for saying that but he’s admitted to not enjoying practice whilst saying he loves being on the court and winning matches.

Unfortunately it’s a symbiotic relationship. If it wasn’t, I could be at Roland Garros.

In one interview Gulbis says he’s happy no matter how he wins. In contrast, women’s number one Caroline Wozniacki has said she’s a perfectionist and works on the things that didn’t please her during victories.

Perhaps that is the difference; I’m not sure. Certainly maturity on the court is something for Gulbis to improve on. One-time racket-smashers Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray have become much better players for it.

Gulbis is a player who intrigues and often confuses me. I don’t know whether to love him for his casual style or hate him for how it affects his tennis.

Him and Cilic are both currently 22 and have many years ahead of them. Although the Croat is ranked higher than the Latvian, they both have top 10 potential. Whether they’ll get there and remain there, depends on how they react to their current slumps.

Advertisements

The Curious Case of Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis

Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis should be in the world’s top 10, if not for his tennis skills then certainly for his crazy antics.

At the age of 22, he’s already been to jail in Sweden after an incident involving a prostitute and on court breaks more rackets than a noise officer.

Novak Djokovic is the only top player with a bit of spunk. He’s become a star via two Grand Slam titles and an increasingly popular internet career thanks partly to some hilarious impressions at the US Open (and Ace of Baseline also recommends his advert for Head).

“Ernie” is even more wilder than the in-form Serb but the potential for even more scenes like the ones from Djokovic are hindered by his poor performances on the big stages.

First round defeats have been next to Gulbis’ name in major tournaments since the 2009 US Open and he has won only one ATP tour title. His record against top 10 players is also appalling.

Yet Gulbis did reach the quarter finals of the French Open three years ago so the talent is there, particularly on clay.

What’s missing is the attitude to make it to the top. Most players who suffer a setback use the same line of trying harder in practice but for Gulbis he’d rather not bother with it.

There’s also a case he may not even care about performing to the crowd but we’ll never know until we see him on a regular basis.

A friend of Marat Safin, the two have drawn comparisons by their casual approach to the sport, somewhat refreshing but it doesn’t garnish that much success.

Another problem facing Gulbis is he’s a bit of a headcase. On the prostitute fiasco, an alleged solicitation attempt, he commented that everyone should experience jail once in their lives with six hours of his spent behind bars.

Gulbis didn’t know of his lady friend’s career choice because he didn’t ask and after a fine he was free to go. On court he’s known to get frustrated quite often and destroying his racket heads in the process.

It’s a shame really that Gulbis isn’t seen more by the public. When beating Roger Federer after missing six match points he said in an interview “I was shitting in my pants”. Just imagine the kind of things he’d come out with. He’s the kind of guy who’d snog Sue Barker on-air for a laugh.

The game needs more characters and the public will be grateful if Gulbis can one day match the feats of Djokovic on and off centre court.

And of course we’ll be watching, in Ernests.

%d bloggers like this: