For the first time this clay court season, a player has pushed Rafael Nadal to three sets.    It wasn’t the great Roger Federer or the flashy Fernando Verdasco, or even the “hard-to-believe-he’s-still-ranked-2nd”, Novak Djokovic.  Instead, it was the 21 year old Latvian, Ernests Gulbis.  While surrounded by the Seven Hills of Rome, Gulbis gave Rafa all that he could handle in Rafa’s first real challenge this spring, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. 

In the past, the knock on Gulbis was his lack of discipline and poor work ethic.  Coming from a significant amount of familial affluence, Ernests never had to make a living from tennis, so perhaps he did not experience the same urgency as his fellow tour contemporaries.   There was never much doubt though, that this 6’3 powerhouse had all the natural abilities to be a top player.    Gulbis has a great serve and a monster forehand.   He moves very well for his size and his game easily translates to every surface.  

Gulbis claimed his first ATP Tour singles title in Delray Beach earlier this year and it seems that this past tournament could very well be the turning point in the young Latvian’s career.    His best Grand Slam result so far was in the 2008 French Open, where he lost to Djokovic in the quarterfinals.   Gulbis certainly deserves to be in the 2010 French Open title conversation, and I believe, he will be the next “First Time” Grand Slam champion.