The red Porsche parked in the corner of the court hadn't cut him off at the baseline, but Ernests Gulbis glared like a man on the verge of road rage staring down set point at 4-5 in the Delray Beach final.
Gulbis downshifted his anger into action. Stepping up toward the baseline, he ended a crackling 12-shot rally slamming a backhand winner down the line to save set point and spark a surge of seven straight points.
In a match that tested his mind as much as his reconstructed forehand, Gulbis tamed whipping winds, a tricky opponent and tempestuous emotions to score a 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over Edouard Roger-Vasselin and capture his third career title in as many finals. The 109th-ranked qualifier won his second Delray Beach title in the last four years.
The talented and sometimes volatile Latvian craves the rush of driving fast, but grinded through an arduous course to take the title. Gulbis fought back from an 0-4 third-set hole to topple third-seeded Sam Querrey, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4), and saved eight of 10 break points in beating second-seeded Tommy Haas, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2) in the semifinals.
Flapping flags smacked around by the wind, which actually knocked one flag completely off its perch, could be heard on the court below as Gulbis broke for a 2-0 lead. Roger-Vasselin stood his ground in a rapid-fire net exchange, punching a forehand volley winner to break back for 1-2.
The son of 1983 Roland Garros semifinalist Christophe Roger-Vasselin, the 29-year-old Frenchman can do a little bit of everything. He showed his guile in downsizing mammoth servers Ivo Karlovic and John Isner en route to his first final. Roger-Vasselin is light on his feet, but doesn't hit as hard as the explosive Gulbis, who sailed a double fault deep to donate the break and fall into a 4-5 hole.
Serving for the set, Roger-Vasselin saved a second break point with a stinging ace down the middle before earning set point on the strength of a solid backhand approach. Before Roger-Vasselin served the set point, Gulbis stopped and briefly complained about sounds during play — it was unclear if he was talking to his opponent or chair umpire Fergus Murphy — before declaring "Come on!" and smacking his Wilson racquet against the soles of his shoes to punctuate his point.
Festering anger has erupted into rage and consumed Gulbis in the past; this time he channeled it with that match-changing backhand winner that reverberated in the minds of both men.
"I had a set point, but he hit an unbelievable backhand winner," Roger-Vasselin said afterward.
Gulbis's compact two-handed backhand and his roaring serve are his signature shots; he's fiddled with his forehand for a while and currently starts that stroke by extending both arms, like a surfer seeking balance as he rises on the board. Though it looks cumbersome compared to his taut two-hander, Gulbis made it work in the breaker. He smacked two forehand winners and a forehand down the lien to set up a forehand volley winner for 3-1. Serving at 4-3, Gulbis crunched a forehand winner crosscourt followed by a blistering serve into the hip for set point, closing when Roger-Vasselin spread a slice backhand wide.
Though he can blow up points with sheer power, Gulbis scored the key break of the second set with exquisite subtlety, guiding a sharp-angled drop shot that landed about two feet over the net as he broke for 4-3. Gulbis won eight matches in all and is projected to roar up to No. 52 when the new ATP rankings are released tomorrow, but he was still thinking about the road ahead after the match.
"I hope I get the Porsche this year," Gulbis joked to organizers. "I didn't get it last time."