Humbert Clinches Maiden Title In Auckland
Ugo Humbert cemented his status as a player to watch for years to come, clinching his first ATP Tour title on Saturday with a thrilling 7-6(2), 3-6, 7-6(5) win over fifth seed and fellow Frenchman Benoit Paire at the ASB Classic in Auckland.
The 21-year-old became the first Frenchman to take the title at this event. He continued to improve with each match this week, ousting second-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov and fourth-seeded John Isner en route to reaching the championship match.
”It’s a tournament of revenge because I've lost to four of the five players I played this week,” Humbert joked. “It’s a great improvement for me and I couldn’t dream of a better beginning for the season.”
Twelve months ago, the rising Frenchman was outside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. He’ll jump to a new career-high standing on Monday when he makes his debut inside the Top 45.
Despite the loss, Paire will head to the Australian Open with plenty of confidence. He survived four consecutive three-set matches to reach the final, including a semi-final victory against sixth-seeded Pole Hubert Hurkacz. Paire is 6-2 this season after posting a 2-1 record last week while competing for Team France at the ATP Cup.
“I want to congratulate Ugo on winning his first title on Tour, but not the last, for sure,” Paire said. “I enjoyed this week a lot. Even this final was something special. I lost, but everything is fine. [Ugo] played some good points. Everyone was having fun and enjoying the match, so that’s the most important thing.”
It appeared that the final might end quickly after Humbert raced to a 3-0 lead after 10 minutes. But Paire settled in and found the range on his shots, earning the break back at 3-1 with a blistering backhand return.
The Frenchmen traded blows until Humbert earned three set points with Paire serving at 5-6, but the #NextGenATP alumnus failed to put a return in play. Humbert regrouped strongly in the tie-break and won five consecutive points to grab the early advantage.
With his first ATP Tour title just one set away, Humbert began to tighten up on his shots. The 21-year-old struck a pair of tense double faults to give Paire a 3-1 lead in the second set. Paire rode the slight advantage to a decider, flicking a backhand passing shot on set point to level the score.
Having spent nine hours on court across his five three-set matches throughout the week, Paire’s stamina started to fade in the final set. Humbert sensed his opportunity and rifled a backhand passing shot to break his more experienced opponent for a 2-0 lead in the final set.
The young Frenchman’s mental fortitude was sternly tested in the closing stages. Serving for the championship at 5-3, 30/0, Humbert could only watch as Paire unleashed three consecutive backhand winners. The fifth seed let out a roar of delight after earning a vital break in the next point when Humbert sent a forehand long.
Humbert earned a championship point in the next game, but Paire erased it with a backhand volley winner. Another backhand volley winner from the 30-year-old brought the set to 5-5 and he motioned the fans to get out of their seats. Two games later, Paire fought back from 0/30 to force a final-set tie-break.
But Humbert refused to be deterred. He cracked a forehand return for a 4/2 mini-break advantage and eventually gave himself three more championship points at 6/3. Humbert dropped to the ground in delight after a backhand sent wide from Paire wrapped up the match after two hours and 35 minutes.
Humbert leaves Auckland with 250 FedEx ATP Rankings points and $91,625. Paire earns 150 FedEx ATP Rankings points and $50,710.
Both men will now turn their attention to the first Grand Slam of the year. Humbert squares off against Aussie John Millman. Paire, seeded No. 20, opens his Melbourne campaign against German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.