Djokovic and Gulbis journeys finally meet at French Open
Originally published on 06/06/14
Today they meet in the semi-finals of the French Open having taken quite different paths to get there. Djokovic has six Grand Slam titles to his name, Gulbis has won six tour titles in total. While the Serb will be playing in his 22nd major semi-final, this will be a first for the Latvian. And while Djokovic has been consistently at the top of the world rankings over the past seven years, Gulbis has been up and down like a yo-yo.
Asked about their journeys from the academy to the French Open semi-finals, the pair agree they had different approaches to the game as youngsters.
“He was really professional already at that time,” said Gulbis. “'I remember we had a friend, a Croatian guy, who was all about the girls at that age already. He was dressing up. He was looking good, putting on perfume, sunglasses, going to talk to the girls. I see Novak, he’s going to stretch. And Novak told me that ‘yeah, you can have anybody, you can have all the girls in the world. But to be really successful in tennis, you need to [be professional]. I remember it still. That’s a kid who is 15 years old. I didn’t forget. But I didn’t listen.”
Djokovic remembers their time together at the academy with a smile: “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. He was very talented. I remember he came out in the practices swinging fully through the ball. Didn't really care too much. He respected his coach, he respected the players that he liked, the others, he just crushed on the court on the practice and the tournaments as well.
"He always had this confidence about him that you could say that even though he was 14, 15 at the time that he's going to become something big.”
Their journeys, though, went off on different tangents as a determined Djokovic reaped the rewards of his professional approach and Gulbis struggled for consistency.
"There were times when he liked to work,” said Djokovic. “There were times when he didn't like to work so much so that Niki had to make him work. With me, it wasn't such a hassle for working, but generally we always got along really well on and off the court. He had these few years, say, absence from the high level of tennis. He was going up and down. He wasn't really committed to probably work as hard and then, you know, the results were there. But now that's changing for him.”
Under coach Gunter Bresnik, the Latvian has enjoyed a resurgence over the past year. He has won two tournaments already in 2014 – both in France – and has upset both Roger Federer and Tomas Berydch to reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros. He could also break into the top 10 in the coming weeks and looks to have a shot at causing another shock against world No.2 Djokovic.
"He plays really well. He has a huge serve that, if it goes in, it can give him a lot of advantage over the opponent,” said Djokovic. “He's very aggressive from the baseline. He grew up on clay and we played mostly in the academy so even though he's a tall guy, he knows how to move, how to anticipate on the court. He's definitely going to be aggressive and going to go for his shots against me. I know that, that's his style. I'm going to try to get myself prepared with the team and get the right tactics.”