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Gulbis sinks his teeth in to the tennis entourage

THERE was little blood spilled among the top seeds in the men's draw at Wimbledon yesterday.

Ernests Gulbis raged darkly against 'bloodsuckers' who surround top tennis players last night. Picture: Getty Images
Ernests Gulbis raged darkly against 'bloodsuckers' who surround top tennis players last night. Picture: Getty Images

Frankly, that was for the best. For vampires abounded. At least they did in the mind of Ernests Gulbis, who complements his free-flowing style with his free-association in press conferences.

Everything was going fine for 25-year-old Latvian yesterday. He had defeated Jurgen Zopp of Estonia 7-6 (7), 7-5, 7-6 (10). He had come into the interview room and discussed his coaching situation, just avoiding becoming embroiled in a controversy over Andy Murray's recruitment of Amelie Mauresmo. He did not condemn the appointment but his comments were far from an endorsement of the Scot's employment of the Frenchwomen.

But then the vampires struck. It was all so innocent. Gulbis was asked what he thought of the suggestion by John McEnroe, legend and commentator, who said that players could compete without umpires.

Unfortunately - or fortunately for those of us who attend press conferences - Gulbis thought the questioner had said vampires. And when the question was elaborated upon to posit whether players should "call their own shots", Gulbis thought this was a reference to the "bloodsuckers" who surround the top competitors.

He became quite animated. "I am for freedom of choice and I am for, let's say, what's on my mind. I want to be able to say it. I don't like when people go for popular decisions and popular answers and everybody is trying to be the nice guy. Not everybody is, you know. So why I need to, sorry to say, get s*** for saying my own opinion. I want to be entitled to it. It's as simple as that."

He berated some of the people who surrounded players, offering continual advice. "It breaks down a little bit the personality. So I'm totally for personality. That's it," he said. But, suddenly and sadly, there was a moment of clarity. Another questioner inquired whether players could "in all honesty say in or out". If there had been a light bulb above the head of Gulbis, then it would have blinked on.

"You mean umpires?" he said, almost in consternation that any such word could be used in a tennis press conference. "My God. Umpires? I thought something else. I thought vampires in the way the people who are surrounding and sucking the energy out of players. That's what I meant. Umpires, no. Without umpires, it wouldn't work. So please delete it. No, umpires. It cannot work without umpires. I thought it was vampires. You know what I mean?"

No, not really, Ernests.

He was then asked if the media were vampires.

"Always trying to get a quote. I'm not going to give you a quote," he said, curiously unaware that he had supplied more than enough for the press to get their teeth into.

Then he rapped: "Next question."

There wasn't one. How could there have been?

There were few questions, too, posed of the leading players in the top of the draw. Novak Djokovic sprinted through on Centre Court 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 against Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan, Tomas Berdych survived a hiccup against Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4, 6-3, and David Ferrer defeated his fellow countryman, Pablo Carrena Busto, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-1.

Late rain left Jo-Wilfried Tsonga marooned on the edge of victory, leading Jurgen Melzer 5-4 in the final set.

But two possible opponents for Andy Murray down the line - Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and Kevin Anderson of South Africa - went through to the second round with considerable ease. The big-serving Anderson outmuscled Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

Dimitrov, who has been touted as a future grand slam winner, beat Ryan Harrison of the USA 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-3. He has improved significantly since recruiting Roger Rasheed as coach.

The Australian once worked for Gael Monfils and Tsonga but has effected a dramatic upturn in Dimitrov who has won four tournaments in the season, including at Queen's. "I think the structure on and off the court is really important," said Dimitrov. "He has brought a lot of discipline, shot selection, all those things. So for me I think it was just a matter of time to learn something about myself more than anything else. It just clicked. It just happens.

"You can't really describe things like that sometimes. Yeah, we have our goals that are really higher than that."

And Ernests, that's 'higher', not umpire. Or vampire.

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