Enigmas Ernests Gulbis, Bernard Tomic have shown they're far from done

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COURT REPORT: Who's moving up the ATP rankings?

 

For the majority of tennis observers, it can be perplexing to see a player who seemingly possesses game-changing talent unable to maximize their potential.

Bernard Tomic and Ernests Gulbis, two players who have inspired more than their fair share of head-scratching over the years, are demonstrating that they’re ready to change the narrative on their careers and reclaim a place among the sport’s elite.

Fighting through qualifying matches. Fending off match points. Playing in the most remote tournaments around the world in front of a spattering of fans. It’s all been part of the process that’s paid major dividends of late.

Over the weekend, Gulbis reached his seventh career final—and first in four years—at the Stockholm Open. Before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets, the 30-year-old from Latvia posted consecutive wins against Americans Jack Sock and John Isner in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. Those victories came after he defeated Canadian prodigy Denis Shapovalov in the second round.

Gulbis, who advanced to the main draw through qualifying, lost a title match for the first time to Tsitsipas, who’s readily displayed a willingness to earn his spot among the game’s best in these early stages of his career. It’s a mission Gulbis spoke of early in his career, while also making it known that he had some disdain for the work necessary to attain such heights.

There were glimpses that he would reach, and surpass, his potential: In 2014, Gulbis reached a semifinal at a Grand Slam for the first time, making the final four at the French Open. After rising to No. 10 in the world, Gulbis then started to suffer from a loss of form, with an injured shoulder playing a role. To his credit, he’s battled on despite bouts of inconsistency: After qualifying at Wimbledon this year, he reached the round of 16, with a win against then-world No. 3 Alexander Zverev along the way.

However, he was unable to sustain any momentum afterward, with a 2-5 record (including qualifying matches) between Wimbledon and Stockholm, making his run in the Swedish capital all the more surprising. Gulbis is slated to play in Basel this week, where he’ll face Sock for the second week in a row. Provided he gets past that and his next match, he could see Roger Federer in the quarterfinals—a matchup that was expected to have happened more often this decade. Regardless, it’s been quite the time for the Latvian.

Another player on the men’s tour, despite retiring in the first round of qualifying in Stockholm due to injury, has been enjoying a hard-earned resurgence of late, too.

Tomic, pegged to be recognized as one of the next great Australian players, broke a drought of his own recently by capturing the Chengdu Open, his first title in three years. Entering the tournament ranked No. 123, Tomic made it through qualifying to take the title in a third-set tiebreak over Fabio Fognini in the final.

The former world No. 17 has appeared to be on the verge of leaving the game for several years. He’s spoken to the fact of hitting rock bottom after appearing on a reality television show and realizing there was more that could be gained from taking the game seriously.

Tomic qualified for two of the year’s four Grand Slams and won a Challenger title, in addition to his Chengdu championship. Starting the year at No. 143, the 25-year-old is currently ranked 85th in the world.

Considering the depths from which he climbed, it’s a significant result. It’s an accomplishment Gulbis can relate to as he makes his own push back toward the Top 100. Both players are still in the prime of their careers and provided they can have this late-season momentum carry over into 2019, they could find themselves once again challenging for titles.

Overcoming their own bouts of adversity, in fact, could see them once again reach the potential they displayed all those years ago.  


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