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Beyond the Baseline

Ernests Gulbis upsets Roger Federer in fourth round of French Open

Ernests Gulbis Ernests Gulbis beat a top-five player at a major for the first time. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS -- No. 18 Ernests Gulbis upset No. 4 Roger Federer 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the fourth round of the French Open on Sunday.

Gulbis advanced to his second Grand Slam quarterfinal and first since the 2008 French Open. He also halted Federer's nine-year streak of making the final eight here. Federer, who served for a two-set lead, lost a five-set match at Roland Garros for the first time.

"A lot of regrets," Federer said, in summing up his earliest loss at the French Open since a third-round exit in 2004.  "But Gulbis did a good job of hanging around, and clearly coming back in that second set was crucial for him. ... I just wish I could have played a bit better overall."

This is the type of victory missing from Gulbis' résumé since he started a career resurgence 15 months ago. The 25-year-old Latvian has gone from outside the top 130 to inside the top 20, with his talent eclipsing his equally prodigious combustibility, but during that stretch he lost in the third round or earlier at all four major tournaments he entered. Each defeat came to players ranked outside the top 50.

“It’s the biggest win of my career,” Gulbis said in an on-court interview. “Sorry I had to win. I know how everyone likes Roger. It was a tough match, but this is sport. I’ve been playing very well in France. I won tournaments in Marseille and Nice [this year]. Hopefully, Paris is the next one.”

Roger Federer Roger Federer's streak of French Open quarterfinals ended at nine. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)

Before Sunday, Gulbis was 4-23 against top-five players and he had never beaten a player ranked higher than seventh at a major. But he could claim a victory over Federer, having stunned the then-No. 1 at the 2010 Italian Open, and Gulbis said he was "really confident" entering this match against the 17-time major champion.

Q&A: Gulbis talks books, opera, Einstein and disdain for selfies

The first meeting between Federer and Gulbis since 2010 went back-and-forth all day and lasted 3 hours and 42 minutes. Federer won the final four points of the first-set tiebreaker after trailing 5-3. But he couldn't convert two set points while serving at 5-3 in the second set -- including one in which Federer was unable to put away an overhead -- and Gulbis won the last five points of the tiebreaker to level the match.

Gulbis then swept the final four games of the third set. Federer responded by taking a double-break lead, 5-2, in the fourth set, at which point Gulbis left the court for a medical timeout. Gulbis returned on fire, breaking, holding and getting to 0-30 as Federer served for the set at 5-4, but the Swiss clawed to a hold in a deuce game.

"That's part of the game," Federer said of Gulbis' timeout. "He didn't look hurt in any way. But if you can use it, you might as well do it."

Gulbis said he reluctantly requested the timeout because of back and hamstring tightness.

"I'm not big on medical timeouts," he said.  "I don't like to take it, but I take it when it's really necessary. I didn't want to take it in the fifth set, so I took it in the end of the fourth set.  Unfortunately, it was before his serve."

The fifth set quickly swung in Gulbis' favor. He broke for a 2-0 lead and held throughout without facing a break point. Federer fell to 6-1 in five-setters at the French Open.

"When you go deep in a fifth set, margins are so small on both sides that not necessarily always the fitter guy wins or always necessarily the better player wins," Federer said. "You just have to create chances, and he did that better in the fifth than me."

FAN'S VIEW: What it's like to root for the erratic Gulbis

Gulbis finished with 53 winners and 53 unforced errors. Federer finished with 42 winners and 59 unforced errors. Gulbis converted 7-of-12 break points and Federer was 5-of-7.

With his clay-court season in the books, Federer is looking forward to defending his grass-court title in Halle, Germany, next week and vying for his eight title at Wimbledon, which begins on June 23.

"When I'm healthy, like I have been now for the last six to nine months, I can decide the outcome of the matches more than I could last year," Federer said. "So I"m very excited about my chances for Wimbledon."

Gulbis will play No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. Berdych advanced with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 10 John Isner.

This post has been updated.
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