GULBIS BREAKING BACK WITH DELRAY BEACH TITLE
by Steve Dorsey
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – He played eight matches in nine days, and late Sunday afternoon Ernests Gulbis reaped the fruits of his labor when he hoisted the championship trophy at the ATP World Tour’s Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
Gulbis won his first title of the year on a chilly, windy day at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center with a 7-6(3), 6-3 win against Edouard Roger-Vasselin in a final that matched two players ranked outside the ATP top 100 for the first time since 2007.
The victory earned the 24-year-old Gulbis, No. 109 in the ATP rankings, a $78,000 paycheck and 250 rankings points that will vault him well into the top 100 and close to the top 50. Despite losing the final, Roger-Vasselin also will move into the top 100 with his performance here this week.
Americans James Blake and Jack Sock also were crowned champions here Sunday when they captured the doubles title.
Gulbis won the Delray Beach ITC in 2010 but he had to battle his way through three qualifying matches here this year to reach the main draw, where he needed three sets to beat No. 3 seed Sam Querrey in the second round and No. 2 seed Tommy Haas in the semifinals. The Latvian is the third qualifier to win here, joining Kei Nishikori (2008) and Andrew Ilie (1998), and the fourth multiple Delray Beach ITC champion. Gulbis also is the lowest-ranked player to win on the ATP World Tour this year.
“Honestly, I didn’t believe I would play well this week,” Gulbis said. “I came from indoor and I arrived late and had to play qualies. Really, the matches (here) were my practice this week.”
When told he likely will move up close to the top 50 in the ATP rankings, Gulbis seemed pleasantly surprised.
“We didn’t think it was going to happen so fast,” said Gulbis, who dropped out of the top 100 last year for the first time since 2006 after having been ranked a career-high of No. 21 in February 2011. “I won eight matches here. It’s a really good start to the year.”
Gulbis, who next heads to Indian Wells where he again must qualify for the main draw, delivered only five aces in the final, but won 79 percent of his first-serve points. When he broke Roger-Vasselin’s serve in the seventh game of the second set to go up 4-3, the title was within his grasp and he didn’t let go of it.
“He deserved the win,” said Roger-Vasselin, who at 29 was playing in his first ATP World Tour final after upsetting No. 1 seed John Isner in the semifinals. “When you lose in a final, it’s tough, but it was a great week for me. It will give me confidence for the next tournament.”
It’s been a stellar two weeks for ATP veteran Blake and 20-year-old Sock. The two Americans teamed together for their first tournament last week in Memphis, where they were runner-up to the Bryan brothers, and on Sunday they collected championship trophies by defeating No. 1 seeds Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Horia Tecau of Romania 6-4, 6-4 in the doubles final.
It’s the seventh ATP World Tour doubles title for Blake, 33, and first for Sock. Blake said this could be a confidence boost for the young Sock, who many see as potentially the future face of American men’s tennis.
“After I won my first doubles title in Cincinnati (2002), I won my first singles title the next week (in Washington, D.C.), so it definitely can help build your confidence,” said Blake, who lost his first-round singles match here to Gulbis. “I really have to thank Jack. He played unbelievable. It’s a ton of fun to play with someone who really enjoys playing. He’s a great partner.”
Like Blake, Sock was a wild card entry for both singles and doubles. He was eliminated in the first round in both of his previous doubles appearances in Delray Beach and was ousted this week in singles in the second round.
“Obviously, it’s a big step for me,” said Sock, who won 18 USTA National titles and the 2010 U.S. Open Junior title before joining the ATP World Tour. “It was tough conditions today, but it was a lot of fun. I want to thank the tournament director (Mark Baron) for giving me a wild card in both singles and doubles. That was very generous. I was lucky to play with such a great player. We had a blast. We joked around and had fun, but I learned a lot, too.”