Ernests Gulbis was expected to build upon his success when he won the Delray International title in 2010. Instead the gifted Latvian, who was ranked as high as No. 21, spent two years underachieving. But that is now in the past.
Re-dedicating himself to his sport, Gulbis battled through qualifying and then the main draw, culminating in his 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Sunday to win at Delray Beach.
Austrian coach Gunter Bresnik, who worked with Boris Becker in his prime, is the man behind Gulbis' resurgence.
"His father came to me last April and asked me to help him," Bresnik said. "I said, 'Only if he comes here to Vienna and is prepared to work.' He did. He cut out the drinking and the smoking and the night life and now you see what he can achieve. He has so much talent anything is possible."
Gulbis certainly has shown a desire to succeed over the past few days. He trailed Sam Querrey 0-4 in the final set; was down 0-40 at 5-5 in the third against Tommy Haas and broke back when Roger-Vasselin served for the first set and reached set point Sunday. From that point on, the Frenchman, playing in his first ATP final at age 29 after outplaying John Isner on Saturday, found himself unable to cope with the dexterity of Gulbis' game. Lobs forced him back off the net and forehand cross-court winners left him flat-footed.
Gulbis also revealed an edgy side after admitting that he didn't care that he might have disturbed Roger-Vasselin's concentration after hitting a great backhand winner to save set point at 4-5 in that first set. "I'm not going to pretend I didn't know what I was doing," said Gulbin, who engaged the umpire in conversation about needing to keep someone in the crowd from calling out during the point. "I knew he was going to be more nervous at that stage so I took my time; made him think about it a little more. He has to learn to deal with it."
If he continues to play and fight like this, a lot of players are going to be thinking about Gulbis.
Tennis thrives on what the next generation can achieve and, in American tennis right now, Jack Sock is one of those young players offering hope for the future.
Combining with veteran James Blake, Sock nailed his first ATP title with a 6-4, 6-4 upset win over Max Mirnyi, at 35, an even older and more successful doubles player than Blake, and his new Romanian partner Horia Tecau.
A break down early in the first set, the Blake/Sock combo came storming back with some big serving and powerful net play. The pair had teamed for the first time the previous week in Memphis, where the duo went all the way to the final before falling to Mike and Bob Bryan.
"This is a big step for me," said Sock, who had proved his doubles prowess by winning the mixed title with Melanie Oudin at last year's US Open. "To win an ATP title at 20 feels great. I have to give a big thank you to James. We have a blast out there and laugh a lot which helps us play better."
The victory reminded Blake of his first success, which came in partnership with Todd Martin when they won the doubles in Cincinnati in 2002. "Back then I never thought I would be playing this role," Blake laughed. "I used to get on Todd's case for being the old guy, doing the stretching and having the icing after our matches. Wherever he is, Todd should be laughing because that's me now."
Blake kicked on to win his first singles title in Washington, DC, following that success in Cincinnati. Sock will be hard pressed to emulate that because the top players in the world now head off to Indian Wells and the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the year.
Nevertheless, the powerful hitter from Lincoln, Neb., is making his mark in both facets of the game and, along with Ryan Harrison, Rhyne Williams and Steve Johnson, Sock seems poised to give American tennis something to cheer in the near future.