Is Ernests Gulbis the funniest man in tennis?
Granted, that’s hardly a tough accolade to earn. Just observe how, at Wimbledon, an errant pigeon can reduce spectators to paroxysms of laughter. Nevertheless, some of the quips this Latvian player – now in his first Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open – comes out with are priceless.
He has moaned about the “bitchiness in men’s tennis”.
He has praised vodka and described American beer as tasting like “piss”.
He admits to breaking 70 rackets a year and feels sorry for the factory-workers who build them. “They put so much effort into making those rackets and an idiot like me goes and breaks them.”
He says he’s impressed by Rotterdam’s lenience towards marijuana.
He believes that sex the night before a match “can bring some energy” for female players but is not good for male players.
And after being locked up for allegedly soliciting a prostitute in Sweden, he says he was gravely “upset with the Swedish government”.
The 25-year-old, who’s enjoying a career-high ranking of 17 in the world right now (and that will rise post-French Open), is rather unusual in that he isn’t motivated by prize money or fame.
Born into a very wealthy and privileged family – his dad is apparently the fourth richest man in Latvia – Gulbis doesn’t need sponsorship deals to keep him on the ATP Tour.
So, he can afford to say what he really thinks and risk upsetting people. All of which is wonderfully refreshing in a sport where players won’t break wind for fear of causing a PR hurricane.
“I don’t care about money, I don’t care about fame,” he says. “I don’t need them and I’m not living for them. Because I come from a wealthy family, it’s more normal for me to have this money as a tennis player. It’s not a big issue for me.
“If you come from a poor family, you want to pull yourself up. You have a goal to earn money. I don’t have that goal.”
If he sounds like a bit of a playboy, that’s because this is the image he loves to portray.
Gallivanting around the ATP tour in his father’s private jet (“Yes, and I have a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship!”), he is serious about his game but has time to enjoy the finer things in life. Such as fine dining, fine vodka and fine girls.
He plays aggressively but never fails to enjoy himself on the court.
There’s the consistent racket vandalism. There are the myriad dropshots – so many, in fact, that it’s obvious he’s taking the mickey. There are the excessive double faults. There’s the crazy risk-taking on key points. He’s great fun to watch and he must be infuriating to play against. But with any luck Gulbis will encourage some of his less colourful peers to display their own personalities.
This Latvian has proved that, to win, you don't need to hide your character behind a humourless exterior.
Indeed, Gulbis has said tennis needs more boxing-style trash talking to liven it up.
“When [boxers] face each other down at the weigh-in, they bring what the fans want: war, blood, emotion. All that is missing in tennis, where everything is clean and white with polite handshakes and some nice shots, while the people want to see broken rackets and hear outbursts on the court.”
Gulbis now faces Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-final. Unibet are offering odds of 6.75 for him to win, against 1.11 for the Serb to come out on top.
In the other semi-final, Rafa Nadal is favourite at 1.16, with Andy Murray at 5.00.