It took Ernests Gulbis seven tries to finally put away Roger Federer for his biggest career win today in the second round of the Rome Tennis Masters. The 21-year-old added to Federer’s recent ATP tournament misery defeating the World No. 1 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 in harrowing fashion.
After getting dusted in the first set, Gulbis roared back in the second as Federer upped his forehand spray count.
Gulbis grabbed the early break behind a mix of solid play and further Federer errors. But the nerves again caught up to the Latvian who’s had problems finishing off big matches.
After coming up short on two match points on Federer’s serve, Gulbis incredibly wasted four more – serving two double faults! – on his serve at 5-4. Gulbis was broken but Federer handed over another break almost as if to dare Gulbis to try to serve it out again. This time the Latvian did.
In the quote of the year, said Ernests of his six misses, “Well, I shit my pants a little bit, excuse my language.” (We can only hope he was joking.)
“I couldn’t get a serve in, I was shaking. It went my way though today – it was (Federer’s) first match on clay and I got into my rhythm,” he added.
“Tennis used to be a hobby for me, now it’s a job. I had no system when I practiced. I’d practise three days, go out with my friends for two days, practise another three and then go to a tournament. That’s why I was so up and down. Recently I had three weeks where I practised solid and it went really well, so that’s what I have to do.”
Credit to Gulbis in avoiding a monster choke. Long labeled as an underachiever, today he served big, tightened up his groundstrokes when he had to and played really great defense.
But one has to wonder where Federer’s head was at. Watching the end of the match when both players were simultaneously unraveling it almost appeared as if Roger was trying to give it to Earnests, but the kid remarkably kept gagging. Finally Federer did it to himself dumping a meager backhand into the net.
“I hope I can bounce back, it’s usually what I do after a loss like this,” said Federer who was making his clay debut after four weeks of R&R. “Sometimes it takes a loss to shake your mind through. When you lose, you understand how difficult it is to dominate this tour. This knockout format is brutal – one week you are great and the next week you are terrible.
“My game wasn’t up to speed, even at 5-5. My serve wasn’t working at all by then and from the baseline I wasn’t making the balls. I need to put in the hard yards.”
Huh? “One week you are great the next you are terrible”? Roger, don’t you mean to say “At Slams I’m great, at ATP events like this one I am terrible”?
Match points up on Baghdatis at Indian Wells. Loss. Match points up on Berdych in Miami. Loss. Today…meh.
Fact is, Federer’s been two different players the last few years. There’s the really bad one that shows up at ATP events and then there’s the good one that we see at the Grand Slams.
This year Roger’s 6-4 in ATP play, 7-0 in Grand Slam. WTF?
For whatever the reason – focus, priorities, best-of-3 v. best-of-5, pressures, disinterest – this has really been the pattern for quite some time with Federer. So no cause for real panic, yet, but eventually these losses are going to catch up to him at a Slam. And they will. It’s just a question of when.
“I have to do the hard yards now, win ugly, starting with Estoril (next week),” Said Federer who’s never won the Rome title. “I’m still in the doubles and that helps. Every match helps, it’s only training that’s tough but now I’m going to work like mad, I’ll be out on the clay every day. Roland Garros may be soon to you but for me it’s a long way away.”
Federer is six weeks shy of equalling Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 286 weeks at No. 1 and just nine victories from 700 match wins mark.
There were other matches played on a drizzly Tuesday. The second-seeded Novak Djokovic romped to a 6-1, 6-1 win over Jeremy Chardy. No. 4 seed Andy Murray also dominated defeating Italian Andreas Seppi and Victor Hanescu upset Juan Monaco in the only other completed second round match.
Among the first round results, David Ferrer just wrapped up Evgeny Koralev, Lleyton Hewitt had a great win over Mikhail Youhzny. Nicolas Almagro, Thomaz Bellucci, Feliciano Lopez and former finalist Stan Wawrinka were also winners.
CENTER COURT start 1:00 PM
[WC] P Lorenzi (ITA) vs  R Soderling (SWE)
 R Nadal (ESP) vs P Kohlschreiber (GER)
 F Verdasco (ESP) vs [WC] S Bolelli (ITA)
Not Before 8:30 PM
 D Ferrer (ESP) vs [WC] P Starace (ITA)
F Cermak (CZE) / M Mertinak (SVK) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
PIETRANGELI start 1:00 pm
[WC] F Volandri (ITA) vs J Benneteau (FRA)
 T Berdych (CZE) vs S Wawrinka (SUI)
 J Tsonga (FRA) vs V Troicki (SRB)
F Lopez (ESP) vs  M Cilic (CRO)
COURT 5 start 1:00 pm
G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs L Hewitt (AUS)
[WC] Y Allegro (SUI) / R Federer (SUI) vs  S Aspelin (SWE) / P Hanley (AUS)
 J Isner (USA) vs T Bellucci (BRA)
COURT 6 start 1:00 pm
[Q] M Llodra (FRA) vs [Q] S Giraldo (COL)
 D Nestor (CAN) / N Zimonjic (SRB) vs P Cuevas (URU) / J Monaco (ARG)
Not Before 3:00 PM
 I Ljubicic (CRO) vs N Almagro (ESP)
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Federer Opens Clay Campaign v. Gulbis in Rome; Djokovic, Murray Also in Action
Bernard Tomic: Once The Federers, Nadals, Djokovics Are Gone, I’ll Have A Chance To Dominate