The Life of Gulbis
For the tennis player Ernests Gulbis (21) sport isn't everything in life. He doesn't think about tennis all the time and is not a fan of the sport enough to motivate him to practice 7 hours a day.
He isn't full of himself. It's the other way around – he's down to earth, exact in his opinions and free to express his emotions, with a sense of humor, knows a lot about literature, music and the way society is functioning. What a cool guy! Sounds different than what they wrote about Ernests before, right? Right! Up to this point, throughout the Latvian press there have been posted either the match results or the paparazzi stories translated from other countries' press, of course focusing on things such as prostitutes, suicide attempt and how rich Ainars Gulbis is. Also, it is assumed that Ernests doesn't give interviews .
I tried my luck and called his father. He responded to me. My personality wasn't the deal breaker – Ainars Gulbis likes the magazine IR. I promised not to ask Ernests those questions which he was growing tired of and killed his desire to give interviews: e.g. how do you feel before a match, how do you feel after a match, how does it feel to win, what do you expect to achieve.
Due to a muscle trauma Ernests spent a week in Latvia and was able to spend 2 hours for our interview. We met the Saturday after Jani on a motor yacht in Andrejsala. This is not going to be a deep sports interview. Neither it will talk about tje father's strong influence on his son. It is time to put an end to those talks. Especially because Ernests himself is a good speaker and has things to say.
You were in Latvia during the Jani celebration. How was it?
The last time I celebrated Jani in Latvia was when I was 7 years old – I was shooting a beer can with my little pistol and was very happy about it. All other years I spent in London, Germany. This year I was at my friend Karlis' place, here in Riga. There was no bonfire, I jumped into a pool wearing all my clothes.Do you have friends here in Riga?
Yes. Tennis players, schoolmates from the second middle school and some people I met in the last few years. It's a small group of people. Sometimes they come to one of my tournaments, or wait for me in Latvia. With the tennis players we have a football team – the Tennis Flower.
Why do you reside in Latvia, whereas many tennis players choose to live in Monaco or Nice?
Because of the taxes. Part of the players live in other countries because their own countries have imposed a tax which should be paid at the tournament location, as well as the place where it's held. Since Latvia doesn't have those rules, it saves me money to call Latvia my home. (Editor's note – Latvia has a tax deal with 50 countries, excluding Russia) If changes are made to these rules, then I'd have to think of some other place to settle in. I would like to stay in Latvia, though. Beautiful nature – the sea, plenty of waters. When I own a house, it will definitely be near water.
What other countries do you like?
Russia. I am not very fond of America, except for New York and Las Vegas. It might seem to others that this life of constant traveling is a dream come true, that you are able to see so much, but in a day I barely have 2 hours of free time. When I was at the Pilic Academy, I lived in Munich – I liked it. Once I parted from the coach, I moved.
You make it sound like you broke up with your girlfriend and not the coach.
But that too is a real relationship! Almost like a husband and a wife. Every day together. You know – small things that bother you, and you can easily start a fight?! It is hard to have the patience for a person for 5 years in a row. This way I learned how to have a better relationship with my father.
What do you usually put in your suitcase?
(At this moment we drove into the river Daugava, the yacht started to rock – the coffee slips out of the hand, the cup is broken. It's fun, but a little bit scary. Ernests doesn't look too sure of the situation, as he admitted himself.)
Today I am afraid of almost everything. Because I've got a hangover. How does it feel? No positive thoughts in mind. It's better not to think at all. If you begin to think, you can think too much nonsense and screw yourself up. In about 4 days it will end. A long time will pass before I will want to repeat any of this again. During the tournaments I am not allowed to party, otherwise the training the next day will be very difficult to manage. The next holiday I will have will only be at the end of the year, therefore I've decided to party hard during my mid-season trauma, so that I have no desire to party for a while.
What books I take along with me? I quite like Haruki Murakami. I read “Dance, Dance, Dance” in Russian. I mostly read in Russian. My grandmother is Russian, and I speak Russian just as well as Latvian. Right now I am reading “The Revolution of the Ants” by Bernard Werber. He compares the human and the ant civilizations: ants don't understand the existence of humans – they see the fingertips of humans and call humans fingertips. It's quite interesting to compare to the human race – if we would be this tiny, would we even understand what is going on around us? Among the philosophies, Buddhism is the closest to being my favorite. Second year in a row I am trying to meditate in the simplest way – through breathing. To free myself from what surround me at the moment, to feel my inner self. Buddhism has helped me in tennis, because I can control my mind during the important moments. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity is defined and eternal, but in Buddhism everything changes – I live by these principles. Today things are this way, in 3 years time everything will be different. Maybe I'll be doing something completely different.
It seems that you live a simple life.
I am concerned about my career, my loved ones, my own health and the health of my loved ones. I try not to think about the rest. What happens, happens.
What would you be doing if there wasn't tennis?
I would be a different person. Tennis change your character. It's a very egotistical sport – teaches you how to think only about yourself. On court you're alone, during the training you are alone. Tennis is the loneliest sport. When you're in a team, team members support each other, but I am looking for support from the people who surround me. It's good that my dad goes along for the ride and joins me at tournaments. During the evening we go out and eat, we talk. His support is very important to me. I learned a lot from him. My father is my best friend, I can talk about anything with him. I have slightly different relationship with my mother, but with her I can talk about anything as well.
Does your dad follow you to every tournament?
Not every single one, but the majority of them definitely. When he has some business to take care of in Riga, he leaves.
At what point does a tennis player move up to the higher rank and starts to choose, which Grand Slam tournament to go to?
In tennis, only the first dozen at the top are able to make money. (Editor note – Currently Gulbis is 29th in the world rank) The rest are not able to bring their coaches along to the tournaments. At first I though that the coach is not needed at tournaments and brought a helping friend instead, but then I realized that to be able to compete with the top ranked players I need a coach with me. At the moment, I have 2 coaches and a physio. It looks like I earn a lot, because nobody counts how much I spend – I need to pay for the hotel, the plane tickets, and food for the whole team. If there wasn't the help of my father, I wouldn't be able to survive with the money I make. Tennis cannot be compared to hockey, where a federation pays for the hotels and training spaces. To be able to practice, we pay for the courts ourselves, we pay for the hotels with our own money. In hockey the money is not divided by so many people as it is in ATP, which hardly supports the players. The biggest Grand Slam tournaments earn about 70-90 million dollars every year. That money mostly gets divided by the 4 biggest countries – America, France, UK and Australia, and they in turn are able to support the newcomers. In the last few years tennis is going through major changes. Just now we had a match where an American played a Frenchman for 11 hours and the final result was 70:68 in the 5th set! The viewers were probably amused, but physically it is impossible. Which other sport has a season that lasts 11 months?! And you have to prepare for the season as well. That's why you need to act like I did this week – party hard, so that the desire to party leaves you for another year. (He pauses for a moment. Then continues.) I like to play tennis, not think about it. I realize – if the career in tennis is over, then I'll have to think about what to do next.You'll probably become a coach, that's what all ex-players do.
Not all of them do it. Training somebody isn't for me! After all this time on tour to go around the world and train somebody? No!
You are so young and talented, that I can't dare to say the words “after the career is over”!I hope to play until I'm 29. We'll see what will happen to my health, the results.
How do you plan the tournament schedule?
2, 3 months ahead. From time to time everything changes – I've got the injury right now, will have to play more. If I had a physio beforehand, 90% certain I wouldn't get injured. It is very important, for example, to make the smaller muscles stronger.
Aren't you tired of the life in the hotels? They are such bland places!
It depends on a hotel. In cool cities we choose to stay at normal hotels, to be in a better mood, because if we choose something like the AC Gava Mar in Barcelona, things won't go as nice. Everything's grey and cold. Most importantly, for there to be quiet and a chance to sleep well.
During your travels back and forth have you noticed any changes in Latvia?
For the worse. In Latvia, for some reason, people don't understand that it is unnecessary to shut down sport schools. What are the kids going to do? I am all for the support of the children, for the organization of sport camp. In other countries, there are special events when the sports stars come in and play with children. Children like it so much! After matches I try to give autographs specifically to children, because it is so important to them. I would love to take part in such events where I could play with young players, but in Latvia nothing like that exists. I would like children to fan about tennis and not some silly things. They become stupid, while watching Hollywood films and playing Counterstrike.
Are you using any of the social media networks – Twitter, Facebook?
I've never seen twitter in my life. I am only on Facebook, but under a different name. I don't sit around and stare at photographs, only keep in touch with the closest friends.
Are you going to vote this autumn?
I've never voted in my life and won't do it. The government's attitude towards those who live in Latvia and sports was proven to me by that time when the president of the country got up in the middle of my match and left the arena. It is against the tennis ethics! Yes, I saw it with my own eyes, because how can you miss a group of people from the Olympic committee. I am not saying that I started to play worse and lost because of that, but I won't lie if I say that it affected me to some degree. After the match, the Russian commentators came up to me and asked me whether a war has begun in Latvia, that the president had to run away so quick. As far as I know, he left to go see the basketball game.
The skeleton(ist?) Martins Dukurs in an interview once said that a degree in higher education has helped him a lot, because the muscles work properly not with the force, but with a brain. Do you need higher education?
I don't think so. If you're smart, you'll manage to fill your time with normal interesting things: you'll read books, you'll watch movies, you'll talk to interesting people. You'll be able to fullfill your intellectual needs. 2 years ago I took classes at the Arts Academy in the Art and Culture program, I attended a few lectures, but couldn't manage both that and the sport. The classes were interesting, after my tennis career is over I'd love to continue studying. For myself. I love art, especially Latvian art. A large painting collection belongs to my father. In my room there is a work by Oto Skulme on the wall.
The Olympic champion in BMX, Maris Shtrombers once agreed that 30% of the readers are interested in the sport, the rest are interested in the life of the player. At your age, hooking up with girls is natural, but were you really not aware that in Sweden prostitutes are strictly not allowed?
It happened like this. I was driving in a car in downtown Stockholm. Saw 2 cute girls. No, they weren't wearing short skirts, it was cold outside. I stopped, asked whether they'd like to hop in the car. They agreed. We chatted, drove to the hotel. In two minutes the police rushed into the room, put my arms behind my back, put me in the car and drove me to their station. How was I supposed to know that they were prostitutes? When I meet a girl, I don't ask what her profession is – whether she is a hairdresser or a chef. Simple as that – cute girls! Well, very cool girls! I slept inside the cell until 10 in the morning. On the walls there were words in Russian – swears about the Swedish police. Yes, it was an interesting experience, because something like this I would only see in movies before, but then and there I felt on my own skin what horrible attitude is against those who break the law. They basically threw me into the cell, didn't let me go to the bathroom. In the morning I told at I was guilty – I broke a Swedish law.
It turns out that one is not allowed to drive a girl in the car in Sweden. But that wasn't your goal of course.
Of course, the ultimate goal is one. If you're a normal guy and you like girls – it's only natural. I don't see anything bad about it. I will never go to Sweden every again in my life! Well, fine, when I'll have to go to the Davis Cup, there will be problems.
Did you have a chance to “drive around” girls in other coutries?
In every country there are different tactics. I am not the worst and the ugliest type, I play tennis, sometimes I have a chance to chat with somebody. I am young, single, where is the problem? I see – a cute girl, why not get to know her? Maybe she's an interesting person. It's such a beautiful thing! ( Just like in a movie, down the river swam a pair of swans, Ernests cracks a joke: “Swans live as a couple their whole life. When one dies, the other slowly dies too. It's definitely not about me.”)
Federer's wife is with him almost during every tournament.
It's very difficult to find a person who would understand the daily schedule of a tennis player: you have to go to sleep at a certain time, wake up as well. You have to travel along, to help. The tennis player is responsible and cares for his game only.
What's the point of talking about wives, where you have to go clubbing! Which clubs did you attend in Riga?
I was at every single one, but only when I was 16. During this holiday I was at Studio 69 and Push (Editor – Where the “Vernisazha” used to be).
Csic – csic – tuc- tuc kind of music. Ewww!
Yes, I hated the music there. It's a crime to put it on!
But the girls were great.
Yes! Even though I don't go to clubs often, I usually go to somebody's house. I have to use my free time to the limit because the next time I'll be in Latvia in November. I'm a typical young man, I like to party! I lead an interesting life. I think that any young person should play a sport, especially if he's a guy. It builds your character. Those emotions you gain from a victory in sports can't be achieved by doing anything else. It's a feeling of complete happiness. It doesn't last long, but it is worth playing for. What can bring such happiness – you can make money, find a girl, but nothing compares to the feeling of winning an important match.
You go hunting. What do you shoot?
Little does, rabbits.
Do you not feel sorry for them?
No. Do you eat meat? (Me and the photographer nod in agreement.) If you eat meat, why can't you do the hard work of getting it? Every day people go to the store and buy something that was killed by somebody else. I eat what I kill. I haven't been to many hunts, but to those that I went to in Kurzeme I liked.
Then you must be against the vegetarians, vegans and fresh produce eaters.
I think they must be hiding something.
In the professional sports it would be difficult without meat.
Meat and fish are very important parts of the diet.
What qualities do you not accept in people?
Lying, envy and jealousy. I myself am trying to be honest.
Are you annoyed by the fact that many think that your dad brings you coffee in a cup?
I don't give a damn about what others think. They can think whatever they want. It's their problem. I do what I do. If somebody wants to watch my matches, cool – I am glad. If I play even better, I will promote Latvia even more. Would love to do that!
To Latvians you wish that...
...they play more sports and don't count the money of others.
Born: 1988. 30th of August.
Family: 3 half sisters (the oldest lives in Paris, middle and youngest live in Latvia – both play tennis), one half brother (lives in America, plays golf)
Music: Zemfira, Boris Grebenshikov, Nautilius, DDT, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Beatles, David Bowie. (“I listen to music while driving in the car. Sometimes I watch the musicians' interviews on the internet”.
Personal dislikes: egoism.
Observations: “I play well during full moon”
Latest concerts: Boris Grebenshikov, Bi-2, Paul McCartney.
Latest theater performances: “Mes un Lacis” at the National theater, “Revidents” at the New Riga Theater, “Ilgu Tramvajs” at the Theater Observatory, “and definitely one more, but can't remember”
Favorite film director: David Lynch. “I watched all of his movies. “Mullholand Drive” I saw at least 8 times. “
Which actress he likes the most: the blonde or the brunette? “Both”Debuted in movies: During childhood with mother Milena Gulbe in a movie “Izpostita Ligzda”. The director of the movie and the writer was Milena's father, actor Uldis Pucitis.
Sports: Football, skiing.
Person who involved him in tennis: Irina Pucite, Milena's mother, who played tennis as a hobby.