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Mardy Fish loses to Ernests Gulbis

LOS ANGELES -- Ernests Gulbis is best known on the ATP tour for his racket-smashing temper, his wealthy upbringing, his penchant for partying -- oh, and that night he spent in a Stockholm jail before a tournament.

With a tenacious performance against Mardy Fish to win the Farmers Classic on Sunday, the 22-year-old Latvian demonstrated he's got a game to match his escapades.

Gulbis rallied past the top-seeded Fish 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 for his second career title, outworking his tired opponent and hanging on for a 2-hour, 43-minute victory.

"It's just a huge boost in confidence," said Gulbis, who entered the tournament on a five-match losing streak. "I lost trust in myself that I can compete with the best guys. I knew it, but I was up and down. Mardy is a great player, and to beat him, now I've got my confidence back."

The hard-serving Gulbis was ranked 84th in the world and hadn't won a match in more than two months before dominating the Farmers Classic on UCLA's Westwood campus.

Before finishing off Fish, the top-ranked American and world No. 9, Gulbis beat Xavier Malisse and former champ Juan Martin del Potro, losing just two sets in five matches.

Gulbis went ahead 5-1 in the third set against Fish, but nearly blew it. Fish, who lives in nearby Beverly Hills, broke Gulbis' serve and rallied to 5-4 before Gulbis won three straight points in the final game, culminating in a forehand winner down the line for his first victory since winning the Delray Beach event in early 2010.

"I knew he had not been in this situation since Delray Beach last year," said Fish, who's still likely to move up to No. 8 next week. "I know how that feels. Guys get nervous and tight. I tried to exploit that a little bit."

After surviving that late stumble, Gulbis pumped his fist and flashed the peace sign to a loud group of his fans in the corner of Straus Stadium.

"I wasn't nervous when it was 5-2, and that's why I lost (that game)," Gulbis said. "It's good to be a little nervous."

The scion of a wealthy Latvian investment banker and an actress, Gulbis was named after Ernest Hemingway by his bibliophile parents. He sometimes seems determined to live an epic life worthy of his namesake -- perhaps to the detriment of his tennis.

He still breaks rackets in frustration, a habit that reached 70 a year earlier in his playing days. Gulbis pals around with notorious tennis bad-boy Marat Safin and other Russian stars, and says he can't train in his native Riga because he can't stop himself from going to nightclubs until dawn with his friends.

Gulbis even stayed overnight in a Swedish jail in late 2009 after what he says was a misunderstanding with a woman who came back to his hotel. He paid a small fine so he could get out in time to play in the Stockholm Open, avoiding trouble in what he called "a country with a lot of stupid rules."

"It was a fun experience," he said with a grin. "I think everybody should spend one night in prison."

With new coach Guillermo Canas and a renewed focus, Gulbis kept his concentration throughout the week in Westwood. Along with his $113,000 winner's check, he will leapfrog 27 spots to No. 57 in the world rankings.

He had never beaten a top-10 player after the quarterfinals of any tournament before holding off Fish, who has been in the top 10 for the past 11 weeks of his remarkable year.

"I was tired and I was fatigued," said Fish, who also limped on a sore right heel. "I played a lot of matches this past month. He was a wee bit fresher than me. ... (Gulbis) has got a big game. He's very flashy. You can see why he had some of the results he had last year."

Fish, who won the Atlanta Tennis Championships last week, actually had more aces than Gulbis (14-10) and fewer unforced errors. He seemed headed for back-to-back tournament titles after Gulbis double-faulted on set point in the first set, but Fish tired in the third set on a fairly hot day at UCLA, losing pace on his serve and allowing Gulbis to take charge.

After losing three straight games, Gulbis exploited Fish's health, using back-to-back drop shots to erase a break point and to get to match point.

"Middle of the second set, I thought I had no chance winning the match," Gulbis said. "He was returning everything, and I wasn't returning. Just two or three returns in, two or three points there, that's what turned it around."