• Nadal gets past Gulbis, into Rome quarterfinals

    5/16/13 6:47 PM | Ricky Dimon
    Nadal gets past Gulbis, into Rome quarterfinals Rafael Nadal overcomes Ernests Gulbis in three sets on Thursday in Rome. Nadal survives to face fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.

    Ernests Gulbis once again pushed Rafael Nadal to the limit, but once again the underdog came up short.

    After getting thoroughly overwhelmed in the first set, Nadal stormed back to prevail 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 during third-round action at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Thursday afternoon. The defending champion needed two hours and 37 minutes to set up a quarter clash against David Ferrer.

    With four matches already under his belt in Rome (two in qualifying, two in the main draw) and belief from previous battles against Nadal, Gulbis came out firing. The world No. 46 powered his way to a 5-0 lead in the opening set, and not one of the first five games even went to deuce. Nadal finally got on the scoreboard with a hold for 1-5 after saving a set point, but Gulbis persevered through three deuces in the following game to wrap up the opener.

    Nadal, though, was already no stranger to stern tests from this opponent. The Spaniard led the head-to-head series 5-0, but only one victory had come in straight sets and twice--including two months ago in Indian Wells--Nadal had come back from a set deficit.

    Drawing on those experiences and his own natural ability on the slow stuff, Nadal turned the tide in set two. Although the defending champion wasted his first break of the day at 3-2 by returning the favor right away in the ensuing game, he managed to survive a scare late in the set. After Gulbis missed a slight chance at deuce in his 4-4 return game, he cracked on serve in the 10th game and netted a forehand on Nadal's third set point.

    The Latvian, however, did extremely way to overcome disappointments throughout the match. Not only did he recover from the early break in the middle frame of play, but he also bounced back impressively at the start of the third and again after he dropped serve at 2-3. Gulbis held his first two service games in convincing fashion before eventually breaking back with ease at 2-4. Nonetheless, serving to stay in the match at 4-5 proved to be too much to handle. Gulbis fought off two match points to reach deuce, but a wide forehand on Nadal's third opportunity ended the upset bid.

    Nadal's steadiness ultimately made the difference against such an aggressive adversary. The world No. 5 struck only 13 winners to Gulbis' 59, but Gulbis made 50 unforced errors while Nadal committed a mere 15 mistakes. Nadal finished with no aces and one double-fault; Gulbis recorded 15 aces and three doubles.

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I really thought Rafa would make light work of Gulbis, but Gulbis came on determined to get it done this time and for a while I couldn't see a way for Rafa. Rafa wasn't at his best today by a long way, but he's got guts and he is not easy to get passed him.

Gulbis needs to move up the rankings quickly so that top players don't come across him too early in the rounds.

#Vamos Rafa

nadline , 5/16/13 7:32 PM

VAMOS rafa

rafaelo , 5/16/13 7:57 PM

Phew!! Do not mind these young turks giving Rafa a work out as long as they know when to stop! :)

vmk1 , 5/16/13 7:58 PM

I was thinking to myself: if Rafa survives this scare, he will win the tournament. I am sticking by my belief.

rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 8:13 PM

This match clearly proves that Nadal is no longer invincible on clay, Djokovic beat him at Monte Carlo, Ferrer pushed him to the limit in Madrid and today it was Gulbis who came up just short.

tennis2011 , 5/16/13 8:17 PM

Gulbis says

?I was aggressive from the first point on," "In the second set, he got into longer rallies and he slowly picked up into the match. I don't know how good or bad he played... Against him, you have to win. This is why he is who he is."

nadline , 5/16/13 8:20 PM

I'm ok with Rafa's opponents coming up short. Fed is quite good at it. I predict Rafa's opponents (at best) will continue to come up short against him at the FO.


Conspirator , 5/16/13 8:24 PM

So now Rafa's "clay mortality" is being measured by near defeats?


rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 8:26 PM

tennis2011, Rafa has had dog fights on clay in the past, it's the fact that he finds away most of the time that's impressive. These hard fought victories mean a lot more than the cake walk that Nole got from Dolgo.

nadline , 5/16/13 8:26 PM

Coming up short against Rafa is quite an achievement! They should be proud. They shouldn't set their expectations TOO high, no?


Conspirator , 5/16/13 8:28 PM

........finds a way.

nadline , 5/16/13 8:29 PM

When did we get to the point when being beaten in 3 sets is something to be celebrated? Answer: when the one dishing out the hurt is Rafa.

rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 8:33 PM

Some argue Rafa might need a new coach, what say you folks?

Monalysa , 5/16/13 8:48 PM

Rafa's records on clay are of such high pedigree that taking a set off him on clay is akin to running him close.
What is Rafa's take on his performance? Darn, these people are not showing the matches in India :(

vmk1 , 5/16/13 8:49 PM

Tiggy's RR: 7/#.UZUpOcpRCDd

rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 8:58 PM

tennis2011, 5/16/13 8:17 PM,

You have to be kidding with this! Guess what! Rafa won the match! Gulbis has yet to beat Rafa! In case you don't remember or weren't around, Gulbis took a set off Rafa in 2010 at this very same tournament. I believe that almost all of their matches have gone three sets, but each time it's been another loss for Gulbis.

People like you are constantly trying to write Rafa's epitaph and say he is no longer invincible or the King of Clay. Yet he has still managed to win Barcelona and Madrid.

Why don't you give it up and find another tune to sing.

Nativenewyorker , 5/16/13 8:59 PM

Moniker - tennis2011...................nuff said

nadline , 5/16/13 9:02 PM

You see, this is why I have a hard time rooting for Ernie even if I want to, and I believe this is the attitude which has led to him stagnating. If Rafa didn't "do anything special" how come you lost, Ernie? If you were the better player in the 2nd and third sets, how come Rafa won those sets, Ernie? How come you have yet to record a single "w" against Rafa, Ernie?

I don't get it............I do not get how some people are happy to be "nearly there", he lost, all 6 times they have met, and he is talking as if he is better than Rafa!

Winners want to to be "there", losers are happy to be "nearly there"...... e-Thursday-Gulbis-Reaction-On-Nadal-Loss.aspx

rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 9:35 PM

do aces count as winners? if not, then Gulbis had 64 winners in a 3 set match and still lost! that goes to show you how tough it is to beat Rafa

Shireling , 5/16/13 9:46 PM

Of the Big 4, guess who has the best come-back % after losing 1st set? You guessed right, Rafa:

Murray (63-100, 38.7%),
Djokovic (68-105, 39.3%),
Federer (98-146, 40.2%),
Nadal (69-95, 42 %)


rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 9:47 PM

Shireling, exactly. It's not how many winners you hit it's when you hit them.

nadline , 5/16/13 10:02 PM

Rafa plays 2h30 hrs and the bulldog gets a walk over... scary

Shireling , 5/16/13 10:06 PM

ERNESTS GULBIS: "Rafa Nadal is solid and he didn?t do anything special and I made mistakes and so he won."

RAFA: ?Normally ? I don?t say always, but normally ? the best player wins. If the best player was the one who tried to find solutions against a player that tried to hit every ball very hard. ... I (kept) fighting and concentrating every moment. ... If that?s something then probably the best player won.
Gulbis is a fantastic player. He sometimes needs to pace himself,? Nadal said, criticizing Gulbis for asking the chair umpire to come down and check several ball marks. ?He needs to be a little bit more calm. And if he is, he has a great chance to be in the top positions because his game is great.?


rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 10:13 PM

WAs in the flight, didnt c the mach. Looked like a scary close one.

I like Gulbis, the guy has enormous talent, needs consistency and is a very tough customer for Rafa.

BTW Fed has suddenly gotten into super form? He is pasting Simon , usually Simon is a tough one for him.

sanju , 5/16/13 10:14 PM

thx ristb,
seems like Rafa is also trying to stand in front of the baseline during pressers

Shireling , 5/16/13 10:20 PM

@Shireling, here is the full interview transcript, Rafa is a very savvy operator: transcript.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign= Feed%3A+rafaholicfeed+%28Rafaholics+|+Rafa+Nadal+Fan+Site%29

rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 10:23 PM

Very impressive from Rafa. Especially as his return from a long injury break is still not over, and may not be for a while. The return is going much better than (most) expected, but no-one could expect it to be done in the first 3 months back on circuit... it won't be even by the end of RG.

chlorostoma , 5/16/13 10:24 PM

rafaisthebest, 5/16/13 10:13 PM

It's interesting to hear Rafa's thoughts about the match. In his own polite and honest way, I thought he was spot on about why he won that match. He's right that Gulbis is a ball basher. He doesn't have Rafa's tennis brain. Rafa was the one thinking and strategizing on the court.

Unfortunately, Gulbis always seems to say the same thing after a match with Rafa. He learns nothing and therefore cannot improve and do better. There's more than just hitting the ball hard and serving aces. Trust Rafa to get it right.

Nativenewyorker , 5/16/13 10:26 PM

I disagree with Gulbis...Holding it together when you aren't playing your best and when your opponent is cracking the ball is not only special, it is the rare career-defining trait that Nadal has in such measure. It is, in short, the thing that makes Nadal one of the all-time greats.

I like Ernie's game. When he's on, he's a tornado. But Rafa's assessment was correct this time. And it's one of the few times you'll hear Rafa claim to be the better player in such clear terms.

cherylmurray , 5/16/13 10:31 PM

You are so right Cheryl, this is the first time I have heard Rafa, politely, put an opponent in his place. Basically he is saying to Gulbis," Beat me at least once then come back and talk to me about who is the better player"

Q: Can you explain the match of today. He said that he was the better player on court but you are the champion.
R. Nadal: Tennis is not like football where you score a goal and you stay back and you can win the match. In tennis you play every point and not only, normally but not always, the best player wins and if you understand that the best player is him. If you hit as hard as you can and hit every ball at 216 or 220 and then that means being the best player then perhaps he was the best player. For me the best player is to try and find solutions against he other player and when I served for the second set and I lost and also in the third and I still was fighting and I found solutions so the best player won. Gulbis is a fantastic player and he needs to pace himself a little more and he asked to many times to the umpire to look at the ball and I never do that and I don?t like this attitude on court but everyone is free and he needs to be a little cool and he is a great player."

Poor Ernie.................

And the sad thing is, a lot of people thing bashing the ball as hard as you can and making winners is the object of the exercise, it is not. The object of the exercise is to win the match i.e. think as well as hitting the ball.

rafaisthebest , 5/16/13 10:41 PM

sometimes bashing the ball does the trick but I totally agree with cheryl when she says that Nadal's carrer defining trait is his holding it together and it's made him, like it or not, one of the greats

Shireling , 5/16/13 10:47 PM

Did anyone else notice that when Gulbis left the court, Rafa didn't applaud? He always does this as a gesture of respect for his opponents. It stood out to me as I saw Rafa just take off his shirt and then towel off and put on his jacket. He didn't even turn around to look at Gulbis.

rafaisthebest, 5/16/13 10:41 PM,

You are so right! So is Cheryl. How often do we hear Rafa say something like he did in this press conference? Rafa is usually modest almost to a fault, but today he had a point to make. And make it he did! I was pleased to hear him talking himself up and giving himself credit for thinking on the court and changing his tactics.

Gulbis can't be the better player if he keeps losing! His refusal to take notice of what Rafa does so well and learn from it, is just another reason why he has not realized his potential.

You last paragraph said it all. We see these guys who are really just ball bashers and don't realize that there's more to the game. I think Rafa summed up quite succinctly why he won the match. He didn't try to out hit Gulbis, he out thought him. That's why he is where he is and Gulbis is where he is in this sport.

Nativenewyorker , 5/16/13 11:08 PM

First Tony held Rafa to very high standards as a little boy and then Rafa held himself to them at each practice session and match (some of that is in the biography from two years ago), and that is in part where his character and striving on the court comes from, no matter the circumstances, no matter anything. Perhaps Rafa response comes from being disappointed by how far from his own potential Gulbis was in today's match, and thus what a shame... if he had more of Rafa's match strength and thinking/adjusting ability he would surely have won this match.

chlorostoma , 5/16/13 11:58 PM

Have just posted a link which is perhaps more relevant to this thread. So will put it here as well: Uncle Toni was a guest speaker at a seminer on business motivational skills.

ed251137 , 5/17/13 12:35 AM

Good that dull won..i hope he also wins against ferrer then djokovic would have a chance to trash him again.



KMA , 5/17/13 1:10 AM

I like Nole but more likely that he will be the first to lose 20 matches to the GOAT, no?


Conspirator , 5/17/13 1:15 AM

The mental strength was there. The intensity and concentration level not at their vintage rafa level but getting better ! much better than they were in the match against ferrer...

gulbis was ON FIRE, he has soo much fire power... as far as rafa's game is concerned, I think he played a decent match. He would have liked to me more aggressive with his forehands with fewer mistakes but overall he did well. Yes the ROS has not been there since his comebak to be honest...but another factor is that rafa always struggles with his ROS against gulbis ...even in his best years his ROS struggled against gulbis (2008,2010 ) ...

I am more concerned about the backhand, it was not bad in this match..he is improving ...but he needs to get it a notch up if he is to defeat djokovic. The movement is linked to confidence so he shall get his best movement back once confidence restored...

Do not pay too much heed to his's match will be a better barometer

vamosrafa , 5/17/13 3:27 AM

Rafa will win against Ferrer sure,

This level of play from Rafa cannot beat world no.1

Novak wins in semis

anji123 , 5/17/13 5:18 AM

vamosrafa, 5/17/13 3:27 AM,

Great to read your take on this match. It was heart attack city! I love reading your analysis because it helps put everything in perspective.

I think the intensity and concentration level is why Rafa is getting broken back after he breaks. However there were times when Gulbis came up with some big serves and great shots.

You are right about the ROS but that seems to be the last part of his game to come back. I also agree about the backhand. I think we both have been keeping an eye on that! It's not as sharp as it should be, but it's good to see Rafa going for that shot because that means it will get better.

We know the mental strength is there, because that's how he won the match. I am glad that you think we shouldn't read too much into this match. I think Gulbis seems to bring his best against Rafa. He has the game to challenge Rafa. But he doesn't have Rafa's mental strength and will to win. I don't think he ever will.

Nativenewyorker , 5/17/13 6:33 AM

It's too late for Gulbis I'm afraid, and he only has himself to blame.....

rafaisthebest , 5/17/13 7:19 AM

Gulbis is moving forward this season ...he is definitely will be in top15-20 or even higher by the end of the season.

mani4Tennis , 5/17/13 8:15 AM

^^^Gulbis played Rafa just as hard in their first meeting in the 2nd rnd at Wimbledon in 2008, the year Rafa won his 1st Wimbledon, and everyone said he was destined for great forward to 2013 and Gulbis is still having to qualify for ATP matches.

nadline , 5/17/13 8:40 AM


Thank you for providing a much needed reality check. :)

Nativenewyorker , 5/17/13 8:43 AM

Gulbis only turns up for matches with Rafa, in fact he LIVES for matches with Rafa. Does anyone remember or know of any other Gulbis matches which catch the imagination, not just his, but the tennis world's? This is why he will never move up the rankings, he doesn't play Rafa every day...........

rafaisthebest , 5/17/13 8:45 AM

You see it all the time, players who are really "flashy" and can, at times produce exciting brilliance, just can't produce it match after match. I'd almost include Tsonga in this, though he has been in the top 10 for yoinks. Is it something in their temperament that prevents them addressing obvious weaknesses in their game?

deuce , 5/17/13 8:47 AM

I call it stupidity deucy, nothing else. Look at the Rafa/Gulbis match. Rafa knew that Gulbis had one mo: hit the ball as hard as possible and hope it lands in court. No thinking about court positioning, out-witting the other guy etc, no. just hit! In the menatime what does Rafa do? He reigns in his aggressive game and becomes more defensive i.e. concentrated on putting the balls back in play waiting for the inevitable Gulbis errors to do him in, and didn't he win the match through a Gulbis error?

Who knows, maybe when God was dishing out tennis talent his one requirement of those he so endowed was that they be stupid..............Fed, Rafa, Nole and Muzza excepted of course........God, you can SEE these 4 are thinking when on court!

rafaisthebest , 5/17/13 9:06 AM

deuce and ritb,

The commentators on the tennis channel put up an illustration showing how Rafa changed his court position in the second set. They showed how he was standing further back to receive shots from Gulbis. But then they showed how he moved up about half a meter, I think they said. That essentially took time away from Gulbis. I don't know what half a meter is since I am in the states. But it didn't look like much on the illustration. The commentators were praising Rafa for making smart adjustments that helped him get into the match.

I noticed that Gulbis did start missing more, particularly in the third set. He missed some of those big forehands that were so accurate in the first set. That's the problem with Gulbis. He only has one game plan - hit the ball as hard as possible and serve aces. Gulbis doesn't understand the nuances and subtleties of tennis. He is also not a thinker out there.

As for why these players can't produce brilliant tennis all the time, I think there are a few reasons. One would definitely be temperament. Gulbis definitely fits that category but in his case he's also lazy and not motivated. Jerzy seems to be another one who can't control his emotions. I also think that some just don't put in the hard work and practice needed to play consistently well.

Nativenewyorker , 5/17/13 9:26 AM

I am talking about ranking ..last yr. he was ranked around 150 currently his ranking is aroung 40 and in race about he is not doing that bad.

about qualifying then this might be the last one for next one year or more.Now His ranking is high enough to be earned direct place in draw at masters & GS.

One more thing he could never be day in day out consistent but he can get hot for any week and can win the tournament.even this year he has won the tournament from qualifying rounds .

he is proving his earlier statement that some of the top 100 players are not that good e.g take first 2 matches of nadal who played better against him fognini or gulbis and fognini is ranked above than him atleast for now.

mani4Tennis , 5/17/13 9:41 AM

deuce: I hadn't thought about it before but now you mention it Gulbis and Tsonga both display a similar recklessness - almost to the point of a deathwish - when it comes to pllaying the crucial points. It's why it is so frustrating watching Jo-Wilful against the top players! When it comes to the crunch moments you just know he will blow it 9 times out of 10.


ed251137 , 5/17/13 10:36 AM

Apparently Gulbis said he played "better" than Rafa. Yeah right, babe u might say that AFTER beating Rafa, but until Sums him up really.
@ ed
Oh Tsonga, Tsonga, there's a sonnet in that......but although I find him frustrating to watch, I like him lots. Whereas Gulbis :(

deuce , 5/17/13 10:46 AM

In fairness to Gulbis, I think that this has been his most CONSISTENT season of tennis so far in his career.(of course that isn't really saying much given his previous standards) Still, if he continues on playing like he has so far for the rest of the season, his ranking will undoubtedly rise. As for the nadal match, he played good tennis, but he kind of sucked in tight moments(whereas nadal played well) and that was the difference.

tj600 , 5/17/13 11:25 AM

There was a time, when Gulbis was the flavour of the month (circa 2008), when he could be very droll during press interviews. He still likes to play the role of the enfant terrible of tennis, as annotated in Ricky's recent blog, but yesterday's interview was in poor taste and blatantly disrespectful. He should cut down on the flippancy if he plans to reach the upper echelons of tennis. Particularly when he has just lost a match!

ed251137 , 5/17/13 11:31 AM

mani4tennis, I really wish Gulbis all the best and I hope he does make good in his career because he does have a game better than most, but he is not consistently producing the goods. In his match against Troicki, Gulbis was spraying the ball all over the place like he was playing cricket. Obviously, he needs guidance to nurture his obvious talents, but right now, it's very hit or miss with him. All I'm saying is, he takes one step forwards and several steps back. He's been ranked as high as 21 and he is now playing qualifying rounds, so it's not certain that he'll continue to move upwards from here.

I'm sure the top players want him to get a higher ranking because no one wants to play him in the 1st round when his shots are hitting the spots.

nadline , 5/17/13 11:45 AM

he is proving his earlier statement that some of the top 100 players are not that good e.g take first 2 matches of nadal who played better against him fognini or gulbis and fognini is ranked above than him atleast for now.
mani4Tennis, 5/17/13 9:41 AM

Forget Fognini, what about Dolly who was so dismal against Djokovic. All Djokovic had to do was keep the ball in play. If you think Djokovic would have had an easier time against Gulbis, he is the only one of the top 4 who has lost to Gulbis.

nadline , 5/17/13 12:16 PM

^^^and Federer. Gulbis knocked Fed out of the Rome tournament, 2nd round, the year he took Rafa to 3 sets. Only Rafa and Muzza are spotless against him.

rafaisthebest , 5/17/13 12:31 PM

Yes, that skipped my mind. In fact after that match, Peter Fleming said it won't be long before Gulbis won a slam.

nadline , 5/17/13 12:59 PM

Gulbis is a yoyo. Year end rankings 2005-12:

61 53 90 24 61 136

Currently 46.

Potential top 10 player but potential being the operative word.


Conspirator , 5/17/13 2:09 PM

Current ATP-rankings

1. Djokovic 12 500 pts
2. Murray 8 750 pts
3. Federer 8 670 pts
4. Ferrer 6 970 pts
5. Nadal 6 385 pts

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