French tennis, in particular men’s French tennis, has been a story of what ifs since the turn of the century. Players like Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have shown great promise without ever pushing on and winning big tournaments on a consistent basis. The old guard are nearing the end of their careers now so the chances of that changing are small. However, there are some promising young French players emerging on the men’s tour. Perhaps the most promising of those is Ugo Humbert. The powerful lefty won his first two tour titles in 2020 and finished the year ranked #30 in the world. He looks set to push on this season, but will he prove to be one of the 2021 ATP Tour Players to watch?
Injuries and lack of early success hide true potential
Humbert’s rapid rise on the tour is perhaps a surprise given the lack of early promise shown by the Frenchman. A variety of injuries meant he missed over a year of tennis as a junior and as a result his best ranking as a junior was #18 in the world. His transition onto the pro circuit did little more to suggest a top 30 player was hiding in the scrawny frame of Humbert. The Frenchman was still playing predominantly on the Challenger Tour as recently as 2018. In fact, the only tour level tournaments he played were in Metz and Paris. Both times he was given a wildcard.
Perhaps the only sign of potential Humbert showed in the early years of his professional career was a string of Challenger Tour titles towards the end of 2018. He made four Challenger finals from August to November, winning three of them. The string of results saw him in and out of the top 100 over the final few months of the year. He finished on a ranking of #102 after starting the year ranked #378. Humbert featured more regularly on the ATP tour in 2019 and started showing flashes of the talent he possessed.
Strong showings in 2019 first signs of true potential
The young Frenchman was still required to qualify for most of the big tournaments in the first half of the year as a result of his low ranking. However, he did make a semifinal appearance in Marseille, beating world #13 Borna Coric in the second round. Humbert didn’t make it past the second round in any other tour tournaments in the first half of the year. However, he picked up enough points to allow him to enter directly into the main draw of Wimbledon for the first time. The grass courts of London were where Humbert showed just how good he could be.
In the first round of the tournament Humber beat world #15 Gael Monfils. In the third round he beat world #21 Felix Auger-Aliassime. The powerful lefty lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the fourth round. However, he showed the tennis world that he possessed some serious ability with his run that year. A powerful. difficult to read serve and an explosive forehand couple with great court movement meant the Frenchman certainly had the tools to be a mainstay on the men’s tour. In 2020 Humbert showed he could be even more than that.
2020 brings two finals and two titles
The first tour level event Humbert played in 2020 was the Auckland Open. He won the tournament, beating fellow Frenchman Benoit Paire in the final. The win saw him break into the top 50 for the first time in his career. However, Humbert failed to capitalise on his strong start to the year. His only other result of note was a semifinal appearance at the Delray Beach Open. But the suspension of the tour gave him the chance to regroup and rediscover his form. In the second half of the year he did just that.
The mercurial young star captured his second tour title in Antwerp in October. Again he beat top players on the tour to do so, toppling Dan Evans, Alex De Minaur and Pablo Carreno Busta. The title was his second of the year and put him in elite company on the tour. Only six other men won multiple titles in 2020. Humbert followed up his win in Antwerp with a strong showing at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Paris a week later.
The explosive lefty made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament before losing Milos Raonic in a tight third set tiebreak. The tournament was another sign of the promise Humber possesses. It was also his last of the season. Humbert won two titles in 2020. He also performed admirably in some of the bigger tournaments on the tour. However, he will certainly feel that he’s capable of more. But just how much higher can the Frenchman go in 2021?
Top 20 debut and deep runs in Majors the goal
Humbert has shown that can win smaller tournaments on the tour. His solid performances in 2020 combined with his two title wins saw him finish the year ranked #30 in the world. He is on the cusp of the elite group of players on the men’s tour. Amongst the best of the rest but not yet considered a favourite in most tournaments. 2021 is his chance to prove that he deserves to be in the conversation.
In order to do so he needs to make deep runs in the bigger tournaments on tour. The quarterfinal appearance in Paris to end 2020 shows he is capable of doing so. However, failing to make it past the second round of a Grand Slam in 2020 was undoubtedly a disappointment. Humbert must return to the fourth round Wimbledon form of 2019 if he is to be considered one of the best on the tour. Doing so will see him break through into the top 20 soon enough. That must be the minimum expectation this year for a player oozing talent and potential and still only 22-years-old.
Humbert’s chances of picking up another trophy or two in 2021 look very good. However, whether he can start picking up big results in big tournaments on a consistent basis remains to be seen. Whether he does or not, he is definitely worth watching. He possesses breath-taking power on his forehand wing and has one of the best serves on the tour when it’s firing. As such it comes as little surprise that the young Frenchman has earned a place in our 2021 ATP Tour players to watch series.
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