By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Latvian Ernests Gulbis deprived Wimbledon of a sequel to one of the best men’s singles matches in recent years when he knocked out Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday.
A high-octane clash between Del Potro and three-times champion Novak Djokovic looked likely in the third round, stoking memories of their epic 2013 semi-final, but Latvian Gulbis had other ideas. He won 6-4 6-4 7-6(3).
The 28-year-old Latvian has struggled with wrist and shoulder injuries since reaching the 2014 French Open semi-finals, losing to Djokovic, and dropped to 589 in the world rankings on Monday.
Arriving at Wimbledon on a protected ranking of 99, Gulbis had won only two matches all year at any level.
But he backed up his first-round win over Victor Estrella Burgos, in which he dropped four games, with a superb performance against 29th seed Del Potro, another player plagued by injuries in recent years.
“It’s very satisfying. I found out yesterday that it was my first win in 13 months at Tour level in a main draw,” said Gulbis. “I won one Challenger (level) match and I won one qualifier in Rotterdam. It’s been a long time.”
Del Potro was not surprised by Gulbis’ level.
“Last year I was 1,000 in the world and nobody believed in that ranking either,” the former U.S. Open champion, who has battled back from several wrist surgeries, said.
“I know how good Ernests is on grass, and if he has a good day he can beat all the guys.”
Gulbis said he was relishing taking on Serbian second seed Djokovic, who has won three Wimbledon titles.
“I had nothing to lose today and I’m going to have even less to lose next match. Maybe I’ll play even better,” he said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Louise Ireland and Ken Ferris)