Read & Watch: Gulbis Stuns Zverev In Five-Set Comeback
Latvian will face Japanese star Nishikori
Ernests Gulbis has always proven capable of competing with some of the best players in the sport. The Latvian has climbed as high as No. 10 in the ATP Rankings and reached the 2014 Roland Garros semi-finals.
But it would have been tough to imagine the World No. 138 coming through qualifying and making the second week at Wimbledon — winning back-to-back-to-back five-setters — considering he arrived at the tournament with just one tour-level victory this season. Yet that’s exactly what Gulbis did, maintaining his composure to oust fourth seed Alexander Zverev 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday.
"I'm proud of qualifying here. I'm proud of winning three five-set matches. Of course, in this match in particular because I was two sets to one down," Gulbis said. "I'm proud of just hanging in there and not giving up after also losing the third set, when I was serving for the set. I'm really happy about it."
Not only is Gulbis the first qualifier to advance to the Round of 16 at the All England Club since Brian Baker in 2012, but it took him until his 11th appearance to make it that far at the grass-court Grand Slam. The only player who took more attempts to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon in the Open Era was Tommy Robredo, who needed 13 tries.
It appeared that Zverev would take control of the match after saving set point at 3-5 in the third set, which would have put him behind two sets to one. Suddenly the German began to dictate play more effectively, exposing Gulbis’ weaker forehand wing, causing a plethora of errors to storm back and take the set.
But Gulbis never went away. The 29-year-old remained mentally engaged in the match and continued to use variety — from hitting powerful backhands and exquisite angles to drop shots and pinpoint lobs — helping him claim 10 of the match's final 11 games. And perhaps the most revealing stat is this: the Latvian won all nine of his net points over sets four and five, while Zverev claimed just four of 10. Gulbis will next face No. 24 seed Kei Nishikori, who ousted No. 15 seed Nick Kyrgios.
"I was feeling physically really, really good. I started to play smarter. I tried to move him more. I realised that he was getting tired," Gulbis said. "If I talk about the fourth and the fifth set, I started to return much better. I started to go further back on the return. The sun went down. The courts got a little bit slower. I think it played in my favour."
Zverev had proven his fitness of late, winning his past five five-setters, including three in a row at Roland Garros to move into his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final. But Gulbis captured 76 per cent of his service points in the final two sets to get through his third consecutive five-setter after three hours, 20 minutes.
"I felt fine. I was tired from probably having a stomach bug, not eating for over 24 hours. That probably had something to do with it," said Zverev, who vomited after the second set of his match against #NextGenATP American Taylor Fritz on Thursday. "I showed in Paris and other matches that I don't really get tired in five-set matches. Today I definitely did. It felt like somebody just unplugged me in the middle of the fourth set. There was no going back there for me."
Did You Know?
This is Gulbis' first three-match tour-level winning streak since 2016 Roland Garros, where he reached the fourth round.