Best of Three: Early Indian Wells star; biological passports
Storylines a few rounds into the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells -- which has squarely established itself as tennis' fifth major ...
1. From Latvia with love. Every star not named Williams is playing in the California desert this week. But through the early rounds, the talk of the tournament might well be Ernests Gulbis. We spoke about the mercurial Latvian (there's a phrase you don't often use) last week. Since he won the Delray Beach event March 3, he has continued his assault, qualifying into Indian Wells and then pasting No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic 6-2, 6-0.
Gulbis' talent has never been in doubt. But his motivation, his attitude and, in turn, his results have wavered. There have been times when he's looked like a future champion; there have been times when he's looked like he could lose to Natalie Gulbis. After Ernests lost to a lesser player at a lesser event in January, his own mother encouraged him to quit.
Now, he's back to playing the role of world-beater. We've seen these spasms before. But never quite like this. (Losing two games to a top-10 player?) Could it be that, at age 24, he's finally figured it out?
"I want to play like I played when I was 15, 16, 17 years old when I just came on tour," he told reporters at Indian Wells. "I played relaxed, aggressive tennis. I didn't think much. I just went for it. I didn't think how short or how big [my swing] is going. Just [the] ball came, I hit it. Then suddenly I started to think, you know, ball comes, what to do, and then how many steps and this and that. Then your just brain goes out of order. So story of my life, you know. I reach something, and then I destroy it. So now I'm going to reach something and I'm going to keep reaching something new, I hope."
2. Passport protection. A few weeks ago, we suggested that it falls on the ATP and WTA players to demand more rigorous anti-doping controls in tennis. Odd -- counterintuitive, even -- as it sounds, the athletes have the greatest incentive to demand stricter testing.
Under mounting pressure, the International Tennis Federation announced it would adopt the biological passport program and increase the number of out-of-competition blood tests. (The biological passport, already used in several other international sports, tracks a player's blood profile over time and is attuned to changes that could indicate doping.) It's hard to imagine this increased testing won't trigger more positive results. But tennis wins in the long run. Better testing means less skepticism.
"I think tennis has done a good job of trying everything to be as clean as possible, but we are entering a new era," Roger Federer said. "Everything is becoming more professional with more money involved. ... We just need to make sure from our side that we are doing everything we can and for that reason we need the players to engage in this process. We have to do everything to ensure our tour is as clean as it possibly can be."
3. More trouble for Capriati. If you've followed Capriati's bracingly candid Twitter feed, you likely know that she was recently involved in a relationship that ended poorly. Though that, it seems, would be euphemistic. Over the weekend, it was reported that the North Palm Beach Police Department was seeking an arrest warrant for Capriati for allegedly attacking her ex-boyfriend.
Her representatives responded with this statement: "There is no arrest warrant for Jennifer Capriati. The case between Ms. Capriati and Mr. Ivan Brannan has not yet been assigned in Palm Beach County and has not been reviewed. The current facts being circulated by Mr. Brannan are an over exaggeration and the police report is one-sided in Mr. Brannan's favor since they failed to get Ms. Capriati's side of the story."
• Taylor Townsend won the first WTA main-draw match of her career Thursday, beating Lucie Hradecka in three sets. (She then fell to Ana Ivanovic.)
• On Sunday, Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur played doubles against Kimiko Date-Krumm and Casey Dellacqua. Total age of the foursome: 137 years. Date-Krumm and Dellacqua won 10-6 in the third set.
• Nice to see Mardy Fish back and winning matches. On the other hand, John Isner's woes continue. He was bounced by Lleyton Hewitt, extending his 2013 annus miserabilis. Look for Sam Querrey to replace him shortly (pardon the pun) as the highest-ranked American male.