Wimbledon 2014: Ernests Gulbis goes bust as Sergiy Stakhovsky keeps his cool for a clean sweep


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The Independent Online

Looking on the bright side, the most Ernests Gulbis might blow in the casino is £43k, the absurd amount of compensation doled out to those departing this precinct at the second hurdle. And that's if he gambles the lot.

This being Gulbis, a losing semi-finalist at the French Open earlier this month, no day passes without a drama. Falling in straight sets to last year's Federer-slayer Sergiy Stakhovsky did not sit well with the chaotic son of Latvian privilege, who used his post-match media obligations to clear up some bad numbers circulating after a session on the blackjack tables in Paris.

He wanted it known that the losses incurred were not those digested by his outraged mother, a former actress, reading reports over breakfast the next day at the family palazzo in Riga. There were losses, that much is true, but they did not exhaust his balance.

"Of course I went to play blackjack, but there was no word how much I won, or how much I lost. They asked me how much I lost. I said a lot. I was joking. I was smiling. The next day in Latvia they say I lost all my winnings. My mother sends me message asking maybe I'm a little bit crazy, but I'm not stupid."

Really? How about surrendering serve to love in the pivotal seventh game of the second set, and with a double-fault to boot? Not the brightest move a player ever made. In truth, he was never in this contest, a detail he acknowledged.

"A lot of credit to him. That's why he beat Roger last year. The guy has a good game plan. He comes in; he chips the ball; he takes out the pace. I just wasn't hitting the ball well enough today," Gulbis said.

It might not have been enough had Gulbis had his clay game. As Federer discovered last year there is no messing with the machine-like Ukrainian when the cogs are oiled. Memo to Jérémy Chardy of France: Stakhovsky will not make the same mistake this year as last, when the demands of the post-Federer conquest drained the tank of fuel.

"I'll do everything in my powers to play better next round. I believe I'm smarter. I learnt from my mistakes last year, what I did wrong," Stakhovsky said. And that was? "Like 355 press conferences. I just spent so much energy on different interviews and articles that I was empty when I went on the court."

It is hard to imagine Stakhovsky missing any kind of trick. Gulbis has a box full on his day, but nothing worked here. He spared us the Latvian translation services with shouts of personal encouragement in English to try to revive his fortunes.

"Come on, come on," he hollered after saving the first break point of that critical seventh game of the second set. He was forced into further verbal fire two points later following some trademark artistry at the net, going cross court with one of those acute volleys that draw gasps as standard.

And then the despair. "What is wrong with this serve?" he yelled after undoing the hard work by dumping the ball in the net. Again. He provided his own answer with an ace next up. The fault was in his head.

Gulbis finds a way to make life awkward for himself. Incredibly, over a six-point stretch he coupled unforced errors with unanswerable serves, the same stroke that had so befuddled him earlier in the game.

He must have bored himself in the end with his internal inquiries and tamely gave up the defining game with a double-fault, the sport's cardinal sin. Mutter, mutter, mutter, as he went back to his chair.

Stakhovsky knew he had his man right there. "It's never easy playing Ernests because he's the kind of personality you don't know when he's serious on court and when he's laughing. I was trying not to get too much in conversation with him, but it's hard not to."

Stakhovsky is as uncomplicated a player as he appears a person. He smacks down a half-decent serve with coruscating accuracy and keeps the unforced errors to a minimum. And, importantly, he is temperamentally a rock compared with Gulbis.

If Vladimir Putin was watching, he might understand better what he is up against in Ukraine. The Russian question came up in a discussion about where the scheduled Davis Cup match against Belgium might be played.

"There is no way we're going to play in Belgium. There is nothing wrong in Kiev for the past six months. We have some disturbances on our Russian border thanks to the Russian citizens. Apart from that, we're a very calm country."