By John Delong
Ernests Gulbis isn’t a big fan of qualifying, but he came to the Winston-Salem Open on a mission and he intends to stick around for a while.
The 23-year-old Latvian won two matches on Saturday to move into Sunday’s third round of qualifying at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex.
He’ll play Jerzy Janowicz in the afternoon session, with the winner advancing along with three other qualifiers into the 48-player Main Draw.
"Still my game isn’t there yet but that’s why I came here, just to get a lot of matches, as much as I can before the US Open so I can feel good there," Gulbis said. "This is a big week for me. I want to win as many matches as possible and play some of the top guys here. That would be really helpful for me."
Gulbis, who was ranked No. 21 in the world as recently as February of last year, has taken a nosedive down the ATP rankings in recent weeks. He is currently No. 143. He was No. 67 as of July 23, so he has dropped 76 spots in the last three weeks.
Gulbis shrugs off the drop in the rankings as part of the transition to a new coach, and said that he continues to see progress in his game. For sure, he has had his moments this summer, particularly at Wimbledon where he beat No. 7 Tomas Berdych in the opening round.
"Ranking, I really don’t care about ranking right now," he said. "I have played better and better. I had some up and downs the last two months, but I played a really great match at Wimbledon that proves to me especially that I can win the tough guys if I play well. That’s all the proof I need. So if I keep playing like that, quarters, semis, whatever is possible."
Gulbis beat Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4 in the first round, then came back a few hours later to beat Pierre-Ludovic Duclos 6-4, 6-4.
"The first match was tough because I played against a friend of mine," Gulbis said. "We practice together in Austria, so it was bad luck in the draw. The second match, I played a bit better, I played a bit more free especially in the second set. I served well today. I knew all I needed was one break to win a set."
Gulbis knows the road ahead is tough. But it is possible, as Julien Benneteau proved last year in going through qualifying and then advancing all the way through to the finals.
"It’s been a long time since I played qualies and it’s a big difference," Gulbis said. "You have to win nine matches to win this tournament from the qualies. That’s more than a Grand Slam."
Gulbis’ third-round opponent, Janowicz, beat Austin Krajicek 7-6 (9), 7-5 in the first round and Devin Britton 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the second round.
In the other three third-round qualifying matches Sunday, Benjamin Becker will face Chris Guccione; Sergiy Stakhovsky will face Sanam Singh; and Michael McClune will face Jack Sock.
Becker beat Somdev Devvarman 6-2, 6-0 in the first round and Eric Quigley 6-3, 6-4 in the second round; Guccione beat Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-4, 7-6 (3) in the first round and Michael Llodra 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-3 in the second; Stakhovsky beat Frederik Nielsen 6-3, 6-2 in the first round and John Harrison Richmond 6-1, 6-4 in the second; Singh beat Juan Sebastian Cabal 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the first round and top-seeded Matthew Ebden 7-6 (3), 5-2 retired in the second; McClune beat Jeff Dadamo 6-3, 7-5 in the first round and Guillaume Rufin 6-2, 7-6 (2) in the second; and Sock beat Jurgen Zopp 6-4, 7-6 (8) in the first round and Fritz Wolmarans 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2) in the second.
In other first round matches, Ebden defeated Wake Forest wildcard David Hopkins 6-3, 7-6 (5); Richmond defeated Wake Forest wildcard Amogh Prabhakar 3-6, 6-4, 6-1; Wolmarans defeated Jesse Witten 6-3, 6-4; Rufin defeated Michael Venus 6-3, 6-2; Llodra defeated Phillip Simmonds 6-1, 6-4; Quigley defeated Luka Gregorc 7-5, 6-2; Britton defeated Blake Strode 6-2, 7-5; and Duclos defeated Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4.