7/27/2011 7:00:00 PM
Normally I’d leap at the chance to hop in a car with a player, but when that player is Ernests Gulbis, competing in the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles this week, I can’t help but start to think of my own personal safety. Sure he reached a career-high No 21 in February, helped by a Delray Beach title and the semis in Rome in 2010 (the latter including a big win over Roger Federer that famously had him “s****** my pants” at match point.) But Ernests, 22, also has what my mother would call “a reputation.” Where would he take me? Would I wind up having to flee from Sigfried and Roy’s tiger or wake up with Mike Tyson’s tattoo etched across my face? I had to risk it. He’s Ernests Gulbis, dammit.
Ernests Gulbis: Don’t do that, don’t do that.
(He motions to the seat belt I’m attempting to buckle as our journey begins.) It’s illegal to wear a seatbelt in the backseat in Latvia.
They give you a ticket for that here.
They won’t see because [the windows are] dark.
Ernie, we’ve been in the car 15 seconds and you’re already trying to get me to break the law. (He looks at me innocently.) Can I call you Ernie?
(Smiles) Call me Mr. Gulbis. I’ll call you Mr. LaRosa.
Okay Mr. Gulbis, before I hopped in here, I asked people on twitter where they think you might be taking me. Pretty much everyone thought we were going partying, including me. What’s your take on that?
I don’t know, I think I’ve been making some remarks about myself about going out a lot, that’s why people think the only thing I do is go to nightclubs. But actually the last half a year, one year, I’m going less than before.
Mm-hm. Okay I’m distracted. The hair. It’s epic. How many hours does it take to make this happen?
My God. Zero. I’m paying less attention to my look as is possible. I hate to shave. I hate to go to haircut. I have my haircut lady in Latvia, I visit maybe once in 3 months and that’s when I cut my hair. She takes ten minutes and that’s it.
Ten minutes? Does she use a Flowbee?
She knows I’m a very busy guy in Latvia, I tell her you have ten minutes, in ten minutes I leave. And then when it grows back again it looks like this.
It’s not 10 pounds of product, you don’t have people flown in from around the world on your spaceship and fleet of submarines?
I think all the products are for girls. The body lotions, the creams, the make up, whatever, is just for girls. Guys should be natural. Of course you have to take care of yourself, you have to go to shower, you know, so you don’t smell bad. The rest is just natural.
So Mr. Gulbis showers and that’s it.
Mr. Gulbis showers and never combs his hair and that’s it.
You’re a former child star, which is very L.A. What was that about? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6aB2V4eG20 though really the magic happens at :43)
It was a TV movie type of thing. My grandfather was the director. He’s one of the most famous actors in Latvia ever, he’s like a legend, and when he got older he went into directing. He took my mother as my mom because my mother is also an actress. He promised me 150 euros for that thing but he never paid me.
Do you have any advice for other child stars on how to live the straight and narrow like you do? (He laughs.) You know those Lindsay Lohans aren’t doing too good these days.
Who is Lindsay Lohan?
Shut the **** up.
I don’t pay attention to American stars.
She was in Mean Girls. Freaky Friday..?
I’m not watching these movies.
Ever heard of Richie Rich?
That I heard.
People love talking about how filthy loaded your family is. Do the questions get ridiculous at a certain point? Like, really, nothing else to talk about..?
Mr. Gulbis never combs his hair.
There wasn’t so many of those questions because lately I haven’t been playing so well. You’re basically the first guy who interviews me in the last half a year. (laughs)
Aw snap, Mr. LaRosa scores.
In Italy when I played well, they asked if I travel here in a private jet. What should I answer them? I answer we have a spaceship, a submarine, you know, a fleet. Let them keep guessing how much money we have. I would suggest people count their own money, never count other people’s money.
Sure sure. Now if I were to break your rule, went digging into your tennis bag and started counting your money, how much would I find?
Zero. I lost my wallet actually. Just now in Miami (where he’s been training with Guillermo Canas, his coach since after Wimbledon). Actually that was a time I went to nightclub…
One girl asked me if I want to go for a swim. The nightclub was right by the ocean. I said yeah sure, let’s go. So we went out on the beach. I left my wallet and my mobile phone inside her bag. We went for a swim for like 20 minutes. There was no people at all, it was a full moon, very beautiful warm weather, so we left her bag under a chair at the beach. We came back and nothing. So now I’ve been living here on my coach’s salary.
That’s not losing your wallet, that’s getting rolled. You need other people’s money? Your face isn’t on your cash, like the Queen?
We are more incognito family. Nobody knows about us, even in Latvia.
Excellent. Secret society. And now someone’s running around calling all the numbers you programmed into your phone. That’s dangerous. Do you have a girlfriend?
What does it take to date Mr. Gulbis?
Oh my God. (laughs) A lot of things. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I cannot [give] you a model of what it would take for a girl. What it has to be, what it doesn’t have to be. It’s not ready yet. Maybe in a couple years I’m gonna be ready to put it on a paper, step by step, “How to Date Mr. Gulbis.”
What are the landmines girls have to look out for?
I don’t want to talk negative about myself, because there are some opportunities and if a girl reads this interview...I only want to say good stuff about me. Very smart, very talented (laughs).
I love the idea that you think girls are going to use my column to vet whether to date you or not. What’s it like for a single guy to date on tour?
When I’m in a tournament, I don’t pay attention to those things. As strange as it sounds, I go to dinner with my team, I stay with them. What happens around, the girls, that’s…I don’t want to lose energy for that. If you meet a new person it takes energy, you know? If you meet a girl, I’m not ready to go in relationship with her straight away, so it’s like, what is in my mind? For every normal guy, in your mind is to get the girl in bed. As soon as possible. It all takes energy. In a tournament I don’t do that.
A couple months ago Francesca Schiavone said sex before matches gave her energy. “Fantastico” was the word she used.
Women and men are different. For example, in Soviet Union time, it was a thing when it was Olympic games, a lot of woman they got them pregnant right before the tournament, because the first couple weeks when you’re pregnant you have extra power and extra energy. So for a woman it’s a different thing. Okay you don’t need to get pregnant, you know, but they didn’t want to use doping so they used this. For a woman I believe it can bring some energy, for men it’s opposite. I don’t think it’s good.
So for a woman, instead of doping just find a dope. For men, it’s ‘see you after the tournament.’
For sure. Mentally of course you want it. Mentally. But you have to find the balance. What is more important at that time, your physical condition or your mental condition? So then you make a decision. But normally physically you’re tired after that.
You’re compared a lot to your buddy Marat Safin. If you’re gonna be compared to someone, that’s pretty much the coolest guy to get, don’t you think?
I think we have similar thoughts on life. We both understand there is much more after a tennis career, you know? There’s much more life out there. This may be our biggest [similarity]…how you can compare us.
(Maybe not the biggest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4_r3M4u2bo but tomato tomato.) Do you and Marat text each other and say like, hey, Gossip Girl is on, what do you think..?
No no no. I went to visit him last year, we went out a couple times in Moscow. When he came to Latvia I wasn’t there but I organized everything for him. Russia is his part of the world, Latvia is mine.
Uh-oh. Okay, say we were heading out to a club. What would a night out with Mr. Gulbis look like?
What do people do when they go out? They get drunk. To go out and not drink, I don’t understand it. If you go to a nightclub, what is to enjoy there? Nothing. The music is too loud, everybody’s sweating, everybody’s dancing, it’s dark, everybody’s pushing, everybody’s drunk. And if you’re the only guy sober in the nightclub, you don’t enjoy it at all. If you’re into the groove, you know, you have a couple drinks, you’re on the same level as the club, you can sometimes get something positive out of it. But it’s not what I like. I prefer to stay in my friends’ company, invite girls over, we have drinks in a normal quiet environment.
Also when you’re in a tournament you can’t drink. It’s just stupid. I believe tennis players shouldn’t drink at all. If I start drinking I’m going to drink until the morning. I can’t go to a nightclub and drink four beers and I’m good. If I go out, I go full night out. I have nothing to do the next day, I can sleep, then afterwards I go for a run or something like that. But if you’re in a practice week or in the middle of a tournament there is no chance I’m going to go out.
What’s your favorite drink? Or is it whatever the bartender hands you?
I like pure vodka. Shots, with some nice food. Also one very good drink which I like, you drink a shot of vodka and then you drink milk. The milk is very good for your stomach. After vodka it calms you down. You don’t get the burning feeling. Try it.
And now you’re trying to get me drunk.
Vodka is dangerous. You really need to control yourself not to get a blackout. If you want to go easy, beer. I enjoy beer, but not this piss kind of beer you have in America. This light beers…
What do you think of American girls?
I like all girls. Really I like all women, I like all girls. I think they’re all beautiful.
Have you ever dated an American girl?
I’ve never dated nobody in my life.
You’ve never had a girlfriend in your life?
You need to get that list going a lot sooner than a couple years from now.
Don’t worry about me. I have my own thing. I’ve never dated a girl. I don’t let her believe that she’s my girlfriend.
I see, so what you’re saying is you’re not lonely.
I’m not scared of loneliness.
Have you ever been in love?
Wow. Ernie. (I suddenly realize this interview has taken on Barbara Walters proportions. Quick, change the subject.) How would you summarize your year?
Bad. I was sick four times already this year. I got sick with antibiotics. So it’s basically one week, no practice. If you drink antibiotics it’s maybe 2-3 more weeks before you fully recover. So altogether maybe 3 months when I was not in my best shape. (Note: his ranking has slipped to No 84.) Now I’ve been healthy for a month or so, I’ve been practicing with Canas in Miami. I took it like an off-season practice. Now I’m starting to feel the ball.
You’re kinda hitting the **** out of it.
Yeah. Well, I was lucky to win [my first round]. If I wouldn’t win I would get back again to a point where again everything is ****. I need to win a couple matches. If I win a couple matches I can go far in any tournament.
(We arrive at our destination - Mr. Gulbis’s hotel. He’s first up tomorrow so there will be no Hangover 3.)
This was fun. But to do the press (on site), it’s the same questions, the same answers. I think it’s pathetic. When you talk [in the car] like this, you can maybe find something interesting.
“Mr. Gulbis has never been in love, film at 11.” Wanna make up a scandal right now?
(laughs) I did enough scandals.
As the player car whisks me back to the tournament site, I’m left with two thoughts. First, his rep’s not totally off, at least the fun part. The guy clearly loves a good time. But I got no spoiled vibe or air of entitlement, something our driver reinforces when he informs me Ernie makes a point of shaking his hand and thanking him every single time. Mr. Gulbis is just a clever, thoughtful 22-year-old who refuses to BS me no matter how it might make him look. And in a cookie cutter world with dry questions and rote responses, I can’t help but respect the hell out of that.
Second, I really want party with him the next time Mr. Safin is in town. At the end of the day, personal safety is way overrated.
Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.