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.”
Malek Jaziri claimed his first match victory as a father as he posted a convincing 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Germany’s Florian Mayer to reach the second round at the French Open on Tuesday.
The Arab No1, who welcomed his first child Malek, two weeks ago, appeared to have lost a lot of weight and looked fitter than he’s been in a long time, moving freely all over the court and successfully rushing the net when possible.
“I’m happy to have my first child 12 days ago, it’s more responsibility and more motivation,” the Tunisian said with a smile.
“I was feeling good on court today. Sure, clay is not my best surface but I try to enjoy playing on clay. Things are working right now.”
While clay may not be Jaziri’s preferred surface, the North African has a special and unusual connection with the French Open.
The aviator, Roland Georges Garros, the man the tournament was named after, gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte, which is Jaziri’s hometown in Tunisia.
The site of where Garros landed is now named Place Roland Garros and has a statue of the pilot.
Jaziri’s season so far
After losing his first five matches of the season, the 32-year-old Jaziri turned things around to capture two Challenger titles in Guadalajara and Guadeloupe before making an impressive run to the quarter-finals on the clay of Barcelona last month.
His win on Tuesday was his sixth main draw win at a grand slam and he will try to reach the third round at a major for the second time in his career when he takes on No7 seed Tomas Berdych on Thursday.
“I’ve never played against him, only in practice,” said Jaziri.
“He’s a player with a lot of experience and is in the top-10. We’ll see, it’s a different match, it’s a good opportunity for me, I’m playing well, I feel good and we’ll see. I think I got some more experience from the last few years so this year I’m feeling better.”
The match is expected to take place on a bigger court, considering Berdych’s seeding, and Jaziri is relishing the opportunity to play in front of a big crowd.
“I like big courts too, that’s what we play for, to play on big courts,” he said.
Jaziri is expected to hit a new career-high ranking of around 60 after Roland Garros.
Bernard Tomic has backtracked from his comment about not caring about tennis because he’s “23 and worth $10million” and insists he does indeed care about the sport.
Nicknamed ‘Tomic the Tank Engine’ by Australian media, the world No22 has been accused multiple times of not trying hard enough during matches, with his most recent offence coming in a straight-sets loss to Fabio Fognini in Madrid in which he held the racquet by the head and swung the handle at the ball while returning, down match point.
He later told the media: “I don’t care about that match point. Would you care if you were 23 and worth over $10million?”
Prompted to elaborate on those comments on Tuesday, after easing past Brian Baker 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a French Open second round against Borna Coric, Tomic said with a laugh: “I would love to say I have 10 million US, but maybe 10 million Australian.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have said that, but that’s in the past. That was my fault. You got me there.
“I was just in that moment. I just said that and I was talking to my friends about some things, so it just sort of came out ‘I don’t really care’.”
He added sarcastically: “Maybe if I had 100 (million) that’s different.”
Asked if he actually cares, the Aussie responded: “Oh, yeah, of course. We all care. Do you care? Everyone cares. You have to make what you can. It’s like a job, so of course I look at as a chance.
“Yeah, sometimes I have my own way. For sure I have to be strong and compete. I’m at the best tournament in the world. All those things aside, I just focus on my goal here and to try to win as many matches as I can.”
Tomic acknowledged that he does have a certain reputation of not trying his hardest and he confessed that he needs to get tougher mentally.
“I think I have to learn to deal with it more and compete. I struggle mentally a lot, so that’s one area I need to improve,” said the 23-year-old.
“I have improved that a lot, especially in the years after my surgeries, coming back from where I was to reaching my career-high last year, this year, 16, 17.
“So I was one year ago, one and a half years ago 130 in the world. So for me, it’s been a big turnaround the last sort of 16 months. I have to get better. You’re not going to get to top-five, top-three in the world or 10 if you have all the time some distractions and stuff. Everyone knows I have a lot talent.
“Me, I don’t need to train much to be where I am, 30, 20 in the world. I always have the talent. If I want to get more in my career and life, I have to be 100 per cent in everything. You have to give 100 per cent all the time and compete all year. That’s been one of the things I’ve probably been struggling prior to this year, the past three, four years before that.”