Ernests Gulbis, the former champion who had to qualify for the Delray Beach International Championships this year because of a rankings slump, is back in the final after battling high winds and a determined Tommy Haas on Saturday to win 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2).
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He will face the winner of Saturday’s late match between top-seeded John Isner and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France.
Considering the difficult conditions, the Latvian with a reputation for erratic mood swings kept the lid on his temperament surprisingly well at crucial moments of the final set when the 34-year-old Haas seemed poised for decisive breakthroughs as he led 15-40 on the Gulbis serve at 4-4 and then 0-40 at 5-5.
But Gulbis did a good job getting his first serve in court on most of the break points and then got lucky when a Haas smash bounced off the top of the net and out of play on the last of them.
“I didn’t play that well, but I kept fighting,” Gulbis said. “The wind was worst in the first two sets but then, in the third, I lost all the feel and timing on my forehand. So I decided to be aggressive and go for it. Then I started to play better.”
Asked how he felt on those critical points, Gulbis said, “You don’t feel anything; you play by reflex. All good decisions come from the subconscious. I’m not going to sit here and give you smart-ass answers about how I worked it out. There’s no time to make conscious decisions about which shot to play. The less thoughts you have in your head, the better you play. If you think too much, you get nervous and then you choke.”
Gulbis, who has never quite lived up to the wonder-kid tag he earned when he first emerged from Latvia, has learned the hard way and is now making a belated attempt to do justice to his considerable talent. His ranking had slipped to No. 109 coming into this event, but that will have improved by the time he sets off for Indian Wells — where he will have to battle through an even tougher qualifying event.
Before heading to the postmatch news conference, he was chatting as he pedaled away on the exercise bike during his warm down. “I’m back in the top hundred now,” he smiled. “That’s good. I’ll be OK if I just keep on winning matches.”
There was some off-court drama at the start of the match when Haas’s father Peter Haas felt ill and was put into an ambulance. His son knew nothing of this and was only told when leaving the court. By then, Peter had recovered and was back on site. Both of Tommy’s parents were badly injured in a motorcycle accident in Germany in 2002 and spent several months in the hospital.