The 21-year-old Ugo Humbert was ranked 381st in January 2018, making stellar progress in the last two seasons to crack the top-50 and establish himself as one of the best Next Gen stars on the Tour. A left-hander from Metz had some ups and down in 2019 but did enough to improve his position on the list for some 40 places, entering the new season with high ambitions and claiming the first ATP crown at the ASB Classic in Auckland.
Humbert took down Benoit Paire 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 in an all-French final after two hours and 34 minutes, adding his name to the list of champions and gaining a massive boost ahead of the Australian Open that kicks off on Monday.
Thanks to that second set, Benoit claimed eight points more than his rival, delivering four breaks but failing to make an impression in the pivotal moments and claim the fourth ATP title. Ugo got broken four times and did enough to stay calm after wasting a solid lead in the deciding set and a match point in the tenth game, starting all over in the tie break and taking it 7-5 to cross the finish line first.
The encounter was dotted with errors, spraying more than 70 combined but keeping the crowd entertained from start to finish, especially Paire who again had his moments with the chair umpire. Humbert played on a very high level against John Isner on Friday and continued in the same style today, stealing Paire's serve in game two after a double fault from a more experienced Frenchman and hitting a service winner in the next game to forge a 3-0 advantage.
Benoit responded with a return winner in game five, pulling the break back before his backhand let him down again, falling 4-2 behind and returning to the positive side of the scoreboard with a break in game seven that kept him in contention.
Facing three set points at 5-6, Paire delivered some good serving to get out of jail and reach a tie break where Ugo grabbed three mini-breaks to take it 7-2 following a forehand error from his rival. Saving a couple of break chances in the third game of the second set, Paire broke at love in the next game thanks to a double fault from Humbert, repelling a break point at 5-3 with an ace and clinching the set with a backhand down the line winner to bring a decider.
There, the youngster earned a break with a backhand crosscourt winner in the second game, saving three break chances at 4-2 to take a big step towards the finish line and the trophy. Serving for the title, Ugo got broken in game nine as the nerves started to show up, wasting a match point in the next game and keeping Paire in contention until the tie break that he won 7-5 to launch a massive celebration of his first triumph on the ATP level.