Andy Murray often appears to like some extra spice to his matches. The Scot does not shy away from verbal confrontations with opponents and while he will hardly need extra motivation to beat Ernests Gulbis here this afternoon the 20-year-old Latvian might just have provided it with comments about Murray's behaviour when they played at Queen's Club last summer.
Murray suffered injuries to his neck, groin and right thumb on a slippery surface during his three-sets victory, but on Tuesday night Gulbis cast doubt on the Scot's motives in taking a medical time-out in the third set. "Actually, he didn't have nothing," Gulbis said. "He just broke my rhythm and I wasn't an experienced enough player to deal with that at the time."
When Gulbis's comments were put to Murray the Scot pointed out that the thumb injury had forced him to pull out of his next match. "That's very disappointing to hear," Murray said. "I never once used any of the rules that certain players have used to try to gain an upper hand in a match or to slow my opponent down or anything. Definitely when I played him at Queen's that was not the case." He added: "Guys take toilet breaks, injury time-outs, delay you when you are trying to serve and take a little bit longer between the points than they are meant to. It happens all the time."
Asked whether he had ever indulged in gamesmanship, Murray said: "I never have done. It's not part of the sport. I guess it's a form of cheating. It's bending the rules to gain an advantage. It's a bit like diving in football. It does go on and certain players do it and certain players don't. I'm one of the guys who doesn't do it."
Murray needed four sets to beat Robert Kendrick in his first match this week, but believes that having a tricky opener can benefit him. "It's sometimes good to have tight matches early in tournaments," he said. "At the US Open when I got to the final last year, I had some tough matches right at the start. When I managed to come through them it gave me confidence."
Although Gulbis will not come to the net as frequently as Kendrick, the big-hitting Latvian's game bears some similarity to the Californian's in that he is a risk-taker whose default strategy is to attack. While Gulbis has had a mediocre first half of the season, he can trouble the best when he finds his range on his big serve and groundstrokes.
Murray, nevertheless, is confident that he has the strength of mind to deal with anything Gulbis can throw at him. "Mentally, I have been good since I was young," Murray said. "The physically stronger you get, the calmer you are on the court and you have fewer excuses. The thing that is important is having an understanding that you can lose each and every match you play.
"You have to go on expecting difficult matches so that when there are tough situations you kind of expect them and find a way through them. If you are not expecting tough matches and it gets close, you can panic and do things that you shouldn't."
At Wimbledon last year Gulbis lost in four sets to Rafael Nadal in the second round. He was the only player other than Roger Federer to take a set off the eventual champion. At that time he was rated alongside Juan Martin del Potro, the current world No 5, and Marin Cilic, the No 13, as one of the teenagers most likely to break through to the highest level, but the Latvian has not won two matches in a row this year.
Gulbis puts his poor form down to an increase in his physical work in training. "I wanted to do a lot more physically, but when you do something like that you need a couple of months to adjust, to let your body adjust to new muscles at least," he said. "Co-ordination loses a little bit. The technical part of my game was suffering, but now it's slowly coming back."
Nevertheless, the world No 3 agreed that Gulbis was a potentially dangerous opponent. "He has given a lot of top guys tough matches in Grand Slams before," Murray said. "Djokovic had a tough match with him at the French Open. Rafa here last year had a very tough match with him and Roddick at the US Open as well. I think all of those matches were four sets and he plays a big game. He takes a lot of risks and it will be very tough."
Riga fire: Ernests Gulbis' life and times
Gulbis, 19, is currently ranked 74th, having become the first ever Latvian to break into the world top 100. His father, a hugely successful investment banker, has continued to financially support his son's career, funding his training at Niki Pilic's Munich academy from the age of 12.
Gulbis turned professional in 2004, enjoying his career-best season to date in 2008 when he reached the quarter-finals of the French Open, only to be beaten by the No 3 seed, Novak Djokovic.
At 6ft 3in, Gulbis has a potent serve and hit 11 aces in his first-round match against Italy's Riccardo Ghedin, a comfortable, straight-sets win. With only two previous appearances in SW19, he will be hoping to improve on last year's second-round defeat to eventual winner Rafael Nadal, though he did win the first set that day.
Today he faces Murray for the third time, following defeats at Queen's and in St Petersburg last year.Reuse content