the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Murray makes Gulbis pay for jibes

Photo Titled Ernests Gulbis
Latvian Ernests Gulbis reaches long for a backhand retrieve during his defeat by 3rd seed Andy Murray.
As schoolboy errors go, Ernests Gulbis’s one was a belter. Before he took on Andy Murray and 15,000 of his flag-waving friends on Centre Court, he had dared to accuse the Scot of being a bit of a fraud and not exactly a true sportsman. Note to Mr Gulbis: you don’t want to be getting Murray angry. Not before you have to play him. Not this week. Not at Wimbledon.

When Gulbis last played “Braveheart” in London, at Queen’s Club last year, he gave him a decent workout and actually had him at 4-4 in the third set. And then Murray fell over, hurt his hand and called for the trainer.

Gulbis was not convinced. He reckoned Murray was trying it on and was using the medical delay as a stalling tactic. So, when Gulbis recalled the incident and discussed it with the media before their second round match at Wimbledon this year, Murray was livid. That really was not what Latvia’s No.1 wanted. Not at all.

Murray’s 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 demolition of the world No.74 today was swift, it was ruthless and it was just what the Centre Court crowd had wanted to see. Murray’s first round four-setter against Robert Kendrick had been good enough but it was not quite the statement of intent the faithful wished to see from the man they hope and believe can become their first British winner in 73 years. This performance was positively vindictive. Now that was more like it.

In some ways it did not seem fair – Britain’s No.1 having to take on Ernests. Two of them? Latvians in plural? But it would not have mattered how many Gulbises (or should that be Gulbii?) Murray faced today, he was more than a match for the lot of them.

Gulbis first came to everyone’s attention last year when, as a young and talented lad with a welting serve, he started to annoy the top boys at the top tournaments: Rafael Nadal here in SW19 and Andy Roddick at the US Open. He was not beating them but he was impressing them.

But at only 20, he was still learning his trade and maintaining that form was a little beyond him. This year he has struggled and his ranking has slumped to No.74 in the world but, still, everyone knows that beneath that boyish exterior there is a golden talent – and it is bound to emerge at some point.

Murray, then, was determined to put his younger rival in his place. Where “Tiger” Tim Henman used to walk on to the Centre Court with a tense look of hope and desperation, Murray marched on and sent Gulbis packing with a flea in his ear: this is my court, pal, and you are not welcome.

Gulbis was clearly not used to being treated in such a manner. His father is a multi-millionaire businessman and his mother is a famous actress (well, famous in Latvia). From a seriously well-heeled family, he is rumoured to have been flown to the Beijing Olympics in Daddy’s personal jet. He even has a website dedicated to his story called “The Importance of Being Ernests”. Our friend from Latvia is obviously used to the good life.

But there was precious little that was good for Gulbis as he took on Murray. He started by trying to hit the ball as hard as possible – that really didn’t get him very far. He tried serving a fast as possible – but he was up against one of the best returners in the game. Then he tried a drop shot or two – but Murray was moving like a whippet on wheels, so that didn’t work either.

At the other end of the court, Scotland’s finest was going through his repertoire. His serve was earning him free points like it was going out of fashion (11 aces are good; 36 unreturned serves are better), his backhand was tearing Gulbis to shreds and his lobs and dropshots were played to perfection.

After a set or so of this, Murray more than had Gulbis’s measure. Now he was toying with his opponent and luring him into a large hole with the word “trap” above it.

Taking the pace off the ball, he sliced Gulbis into little pieces, dragging him closer and closer to the edge of the pit. And every time, Gulbis fell into it. It was fascinating to watch – and it must have been hellish to play against.

So we have learned two things from Murray’s second round match. First, the Scot is stepping up the pace perfectly for a serious assault on the sharp end of the tournament. Second, never, ever get Murray angry before you have to play him.

No comments:

Post a Comment