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Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, the unlikely tennis star

Last updated 10:11 04/06/2014
Ernests Gulbis
Getty
UNLIKELY STAR: Ernests Gulbis has reached his first tennis major semifinal on his 27th attempt.

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If tennis weren't finally going so well for Ernests Gulbis, he could probably make a living as a comedian. Or a philosopher. Or maybe even a basketball player.

It doesn't really matter at this point because tennis is his job. And his next task is Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinals.

The 18th-seeded Gulbis reached his first major semifinal in his 27th major tournament, beating sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 overnight at Roland Garros.

The victory came two days after Gulbis defeated Roger Federer, the 2009 French Open champion and owner of a record 17 Grand Slam titles.

''I don't understand it yet,'' Gulbis said, reflecting on his last 10 days in Paris.

''Even now, I don't want to be too happy. I don't want to get too much stuff in my head.''

But there's plenty in there.

Gulbis is 25 years old, comes from a wealthy family in Latvia and has underachieved for years. He attributes his lack of success on the tennis tour to a lifestyle in which partying meant more than winning.

All that, he has been saying recently, is changing.

''What took me so long? I think I was eating wrong. I had the wrong diet,'' Gulbis said, jokingly referring to the gluten-free diet that Djokovic says made him a better player.

''My diet is full-on gluten. I like a lot of ketchup, a lot of unhealthy stuff.''

But seriously, this guy is playing some great tennis on the red clay in Paris. And against Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, he seemed at another level.

''I felt physically so good. I felt that I can run forever,'' Gulbis said.

''I felt that he cannot make (a) winner.''

To reach his first Grand Slam final, Gulbis will have to beat an old friend, the second-seeded Djokovic. They know each other from their days as teenage hopefuls.

Djokovic even gave Gulbis some advice then, telling him he needed to concentrate on tennis, not girls. Gulbis, of course, ignored him.

''He was always somebody that was very enthusiastic about everything in life, and you could see he wanted to enjoy it with the open arms,'' said Djokovic, who beat eighth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4 to reach his sixth French Open semifinal.

''If I can (be) politically correct.''

Part of Gulbis' change in attitude appears to come from a desire to find some sort of inner peace. He said things in life have always come easily for him, like school and sports, but now he has to work hard to get what he wants out of the game that ''basically chose me''.

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''I think I would be (a) pretty good basketball player, pretty good football player,'' said Gulbis, who is 1.9 metres and was named after Ernest Hemingway.

''I have a good feeling for it. Just happened to be tennis.''

But it's only now starting to sink in, it seems. Happiness, Gulbis the philosopher intoned, comes from doing well on the tennis court.

''Forget about the money. Forget about fame. It's just about my inner comfort,'' Gulbis said.

''That's it.''

- AP

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