Two years ago, Gulbis was sat in the main interview room at Roland Garros fielding questions from a full house of journalists after beating Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych back-to-back to reach the semi-finals in Paris.
The Latvian cracked the top-10 the following Monday.
Today, he is ranked No80 in the world, has only five main draw victories to his name in 2016 and is exiled all the way to Court 17 at the French Open, where he faces Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the second round on Thursday.
Shoulder and wrist problems over the last 20 months have contributed to Gulbis’ slump and he finds himself a world apart from where he was in Paris in 2014.
He is trying to win back-to-back matches in a main draw for the first time this season and is so under the radar that only one person requested him for an interview after his straight-sets first round victory over Andreas Seppi on Tuesday, which took place on Court 18.
“It’s such a different world when you’re playing well, when everybody wants you in their tournaments, when everybody puts you on the good courts, when everybody tries to please you. And then you know you come – two years ago I played semi-finals here, and this year, players who play on Court 18 they’ve been treated like s***,” Gulbis told Sport360 after his first round win.
“I asked ‘is it a nice court for the match?’ so they said ‘no, go on the court’. The coaching staff doesn’t even have a spot to sit to watch the match.
“I feel a little bit disrespected because everybody goes out there, they put out their best, we have to play in snow, like in Munich, you have to play in cold weather, hot weather, it doesn’t matter, nobody cares, we go out there we give our best and then we get… it’s definitely not a democratic attitude at all.”
Gulbis spoke like a man not complaining for the sake of better treatment just for himself, but like someone who expected more from a sport he continues to hold on to – one that he feels should value all of its protagonists.
“People in my situation have to beg for practice courts to get a court alone for one hour anytime during the day. And then you see seeded players who are there for two hours alone with a coach. How can you compete? We have one hour with four people on court against a guy who has prepared well, everything perfect…” he explains.
“I don’t know how the system works. Are we living in a democracy where everybody is the same or how does it work? If somebody explains this to me then I will understand then maybe when I reach top-10 again then I will act accordingly. But I don’t want to do it.”
Gulbis’ comments did not just describe the situation at the French Open; he says that is the case everywhere.
He has been forced to play qualifying rounds at most tournaments this season, as he attempts to make his way back up the rankings. He knows how far he is from his top-10 days but still is amazed at how quickly people can turn their backs on you.
“I’m playing now qualies, there’s no chance someone will give me a wild card, so I see a little bit… I find that – I am not lucky, not fortunate, but I like this situation. Because when you start young, everything goes your way, you don’t really notice that everyone is kissing your a** for no reason at all, just because you’re a good tennis player and then you supposedly live all your life and you expect brown-nosing from people,” said the 27-year-old, who owns six ATP titles.
“Tennis society has the shortest memory. You play bad for a couple of months and that’s it. Maybe not if you’re top-three or top-four guys who have been playing consistently well for many years then no, but guys like me…
“I don’t want to compare it. But (Grigor) Dimitrov is struggling a little bit, he’s been top-10, he’s a really good player, how long is it going to take people to treat him differently? I’m not sure about this. If he’s going to play another year bad then he’s also in the same position like me. Sometimes it’s unfair but it gets you motivated to get back. But you realise much more the people around you.”
Many are wondering how Gulbis ended up in this downward spiral, unable to string several victories in a row, and the Latvian explained how it is all related to the shoulder injury he picked up shortly after his French Open semi-final appearance in 2014.
He says the shoulder injury became a wrist injury “it’s like one chain and it’s a little bit connected” and the problems have been on and off for almost two years.
Gulbis says not feeling 100 per cent meant that his time on the practice court has been cut down significantly, which has affected his form.
“I was practicing maybe three times less than I wish to practice. And I’m the kind of guy who needs to spend hours and hours on court to get a feeling. When I was playing well I was spending five or six hours on the court on the practice days and that made me feel good. And when I had these wrist and shoulder problems I could spend one and half hours a day, so it wasn’t enough,” said Gulbis.
“In Miami and Indian Wells this year I wanted to withdraw, but my coach Gunter (Bresnik) said I should play because he was there. Which was a wrong decision.
“Then I withdrew from Marrakech and Monte Carlo and I started slowly in Barcelona. I’m happy about the clay season, because okay, Barcelona I lost but it was the first time I played points in the match, since one month, slowly, slowly… Rome was the first tournament where it was okay. Even Geneva last week, I beat (Ricardas) Berankis and then (Marin) Cilic, who is a great player and I lost a close match.
“I need to be able to practice to get a lot of hours on the court, without that… every player is different but I need to get hours on the court, fitness doesn’t help me, I need the hours on court.”