For French Open semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis, a serious approach pays off

PARIS – Nadal, Djokovic, Murray: Grand Slam champions all.

The fourth member of Friday's French Open semi-finals quartet is Ernests Gulbis, the talented, charmismatic, racket-torturing Latvian who most thought would have been there by now.

If this is his first trip to the final four, it's basically his own doing. But – for the moment at least , as he prepares to meet No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic Friday– all of that infamy is in the past.

Gulbis is keeping it small and close-knit at this French Open. There is coach Günther Bresnik, who was his coach as a young boy (Djokovic was at the same German academy for parts of the same period) but has come back into the picture the last couple of years. And, for inspiration and perhaps motivation, there is young Dominic Thiem, a 20-year-old who also is coach by Bresnik who remains in Paris despite having been eliminated from the tournament by Nadal in the second round to offer support.

Here they are on the practice court Thursday afternoon.

For a little more on the "new" Gulbis, this is good reading by Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal.

The man really is unrecognizable. Look at the intent on his face as he listens to his coach during the practice session. Contrast that with below, a few years ago at a tournament in Toronto at a practice. His main goal for several minutes on this day was to plop his unsuspecting physio on the back of the head with a tennis ball when his back was turned.

The man has come a long way. And one indicator that Gulbis may be serious about turning the page on his misspent tennis youth is that Bresnik, an experienced coach who has a major prospect on his hand with Thiem – Nadal called him a "future champion" despite dispatching him rather routinely last week – would allow him around a man-child that, until fairly recently, would have been considered nothing but a toxic influence.