For 21 year old Ernests Gulbis, the game plan was simple, overpower his 28 year old opponent with big serves and ground strokes. In executing this strategy well, Gulbis downed Jarkko Nieminen 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships to reach his first career ATP final.
After a love hold to open the match, Nieminen was in trouble the second game. Unable to capitalize on two game points, Jarkko faced a fourth break point when he misfired on a forehand crosscourt. With a backhand down the line winner, Gulbis secured the break for 2-1. Despite difficulties, Gulbis went on to consolidate for a 3-1 edge. Serving for the set at 5-4, with a couple of errors, Gulbis saw two set points disappear. However, by calling on some booming serves, Gulbis carried the set.
The second set had a similar feel to the first at the start. Subsequent to Nieminen winning the first game, down 0-30 in his second service game, he arrived at game point. But, with Gulbis putting on the squeeze on the second serve, Nieminen eyed another break point. With a spectacularly angled backhand return, Ernests forced a mistake from Jarkko and pocketed the break for 2-1. Then, with a banal game, Gulbis extended his lead to 3-1. Yet, serving at 3-2, Gulbis dumped two backhands into the net to give Nieminen double break point. Still edgy and frustrated in believing he was cheated out of an ace the prior point, Gulbis double faulted to equalize the set. His next service game though, Gulbis pushed the calm button and quickly squared the set at 4 all. Then, Gulbis swiftly regained the momentum. With Nieminen up 30-0, Gulbis bottled his urge to pull the trigger early and provoked his opponent into four consecutive errors, thereby capturing the break. Now, one game away from the finish line, Gulbis’ potential victory lap was interrupted by rain.
When play resumed, after going down love-15, Gulbis found his rhythm on first serves after failing to connect initially. After getting to double match point, Gulbis sealed the win with an ace.
Gulbis stated he was “happy” to prevail and that he feels “fit for [tomorrow’s] match”. When asked how he killed the three hour interlude, Gulbis replied “I ate, played basketball, did physio”. In reference to his new coach Hernan Gumy, Gulbis characterizes him as “a great guy and great coach . . . He’s helped every aspect of my game”.
Gulbis awaits the result of the Mardy Fish and Ivo Karlovic semifinal which takes place later tonight.