Add two more names to the list of on-form HEAD racket rebels after Latvian Ernests Gulbis and Russian Anna Lapushchenkova made semi-final breakthroughs on European clay to lift their levels with perfect timing for the run-up to the French Open.
Gulbis, 21, fired off winner after winner with his YouTek Prestige MP to keep king of clay Rafael Nadal on the back foot throughout their Rome Masters meeting, with the Spaniard narrowly clinching a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win.
Gulbis has made a fast rise this season, winning his first career title at Delray Beach, Florida, in February as his new work ethic on and off court pays huge dividends with help from Argentine coach Hernan Gumy, a former ATP player. "I'm happy the way I'm playing. I know that I can now perform well against top players," said the Latvian. "When I play well, I'm trouble for any player. I hope I'll be in form for the French Open and Wimbledon and I hope I can get a seeding."
The 21 year old young gun came close to a gold-plated upset double in Rome after knocking out Roger Federer in the second round and flirting with a defeat of Nadal. The young talent was playing only his third ATP-level semi-final and will rise to a ranking inside the Top 35 - best of his career.
It was a similar story for Lapushchenkova, playing with a Head Instinct at the Stuttgart's Porsche Grand Prix. The 23-year-old qualifier challenged Australian Samantha Stosur early before falling 7-5, 6-3.
Lapushchenkova, who reached a new career high entering the Top 100 in the Sony Ericsson WTA ranking, played her first WTA main draw of 2010. She took a 5-2 lead but Stosur clawed back with five winning games in a row during the tumultuous opening set.