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Ugo Humbert Becomes “Newgo Humbert” After Making Remarkable Improvements

Ugo Humbert US Open

It would appear that there have been two more or less complete transformations in a player’s form on the ATP Tour in the last six months. The first has been obvious, with Jannik Sinner maintaining his spectacular form of last autumn/fall, which culminated in his virtually winning the Davis Cup on his own for Italy, to win his first Major at this year’s Australian Open. But in the background, also making huge improvements to almost every aspect of his game, has been Ugo Humbert, whose own recent uplift culminated in winning in Dubai at the weekend. Indeed, so remarkable has been his transformation that we may have to start referring to “Ugo Humbert” as “Newgo Humbert”.

Destructive In Dubai

Humbert won the ATP 500 event in Dubai, the second ATP 500 win of his career, by beating Alexander Bublik in straight sets in the final, 6-4, 6-3. And rarely has a straight sets win been so straightforward, especially against the great disruptor Bublik, who so often throws higher-ranked opponents off their game with his unique mix of slices, dices and underarm serves. Yet right from the start of the match, it was obvious that unlike his young compatriot, Arthur Fils, who lost the Antwerp final to Bublik in October after a superb run at the tournament, Humbert was not going to be put off his own new and improved game by anyone, even Bublik.

As with Sinner, the improvement in Humbert’s game over the last six months or so has been almost total. Every key element – technical, physical and mental – has improved dramatically, which is surely largely down to his working with a new coach, Jeremy Chardy (who of course was himself a fine singles player, reaching as high as No.25 in the world at his peak), since the summer of 2022.

Chardy will be delighted that Humbert has already surpassed his own highest ranking, by reaching No.14 in the Pepperstone ATP World Rankings after winning in Dubai, because it is a testament to the improvements in his game. Technically, his serve is far better and more reliable than it has ever been, while his ground strokes are now being hit with much greater speed and depth; physically, he appears far fitter than before, especially after suffering several injuries over the last few years that had slowed his progress; and, finally and most importantly, mentally he is displaying new-found maturity and self-belief, such that he seems to fear no-one on the court.

That was evident throughout his run in Dubai, during which he beat Gael Monfils, Andy Murray, Hubert Hurkacz, Daniil Medvedev and finally Bublik to claim the title. He may have lost sets against both Monfils and Hurkacz, but he never lost faith in his ability to outlast and ultimately outplay his opponent. And against both Murray and especially Medvedev, he was utterly inspired in achieving comprehensive straight-sets wins against Major-winning Champions. Indeed, after he dismissed Medvedev (who may still be suffering from an Australian Open hangover after losing his fifth Major final of the sixth he has played so far) almost as easily as he had dismissed Murray, the Great Scot may no longer be quite so sure that he should retire later this year. Not everybody on the ATP Tour is playing as well as Humbert is right now; in fact, perhaps only Sinner is.

Humbert Is Becoming A Finals Specialist

Having won already won two titles in 2024 (he won the ATP 250 Open 13 Provence event in Marseille in February), Humbert has proven that he not only can compete with any other male player on tour (or at least any male player outside the new Big Three of Djokovic, Alcaraz and Sinner, none of whom he has faced yet in 2024) but that he is a finals specialist. That is because his win in Dubai meant that he has now won every one of the first six ATP Tour finals that he has played, making him only the third man in the Open Era to do so.

Now, it must be added immediately that the two previous men to do so were not Federer and Nadal, nor even Alcaraz and Sinner, but Ernests Gulbis and Martin Kližan. Fine careers though the Latvian and the Slovak had, they did not reach the loftiest heights in men’s tennis despite their remarkable early record in finals, although Gulbis did briefly break into the world’s top 10. Nevertheless, based on his achievements so far in 2024, which have built impressively on a fine end to 2023 that included winning his home-town tournament in Metz, there is every chance that Humbert can rise even higher.

If he is to do so, however, he will almost certainly have to improve his record in the Grand Slam tournaments. To date, he has only ever reached the second week (or fourth round) at one Major, which was at Wimbledon in 2019. And it may be that Wimbledon provides him with the best opportunity to reach the last eight at a Major or go even deeper, given that he has already proved how adept he is on grass by winning the Halle Open in 2021 (which was his first ATP 500 title).

However, such is Humbert’s new-found belief, which stems from the considerable technical improvements to his game that he has made with Chardy over the last 18 months or so, he will probably fancy his chances of doing well at his home Grand Slam at Roland Garros, even if so far he is yet to win a clay-court event (his six ATP titles so far consisting of five on hardcourt and one on grass).

What Lies Ahead for Humbert?

In not having a particular affinity with, or even liking for, clay-court tennis, Humbert may be quite “unFrench” for a French tennis player, but that is not the only way in which he differs from so many of the Gallic stereotypes. In addition to preferring grass and hardcourt to la terre battue (beaten earth), he also often stresses in interviews that he grew up in the north of France, not the south, where rainfall was so common that he largely grew up playing indoors.

Even more importantly, Humbert is increasingly exhibiting a classic non-Gallic temperament on court, which is to say that the tendency towards inconsistency that has plagued so many fine French players in the past – from veterans such as Monfils and Gasquet through to bright new hopes like Fils and Luca Van Assche – appears to be increasingly absent from his game. And if he can keep it at bay, then he will surely progress even further up the world rankings and enter the world’s top 10 in the next few months.

The men’s singles at Dubai in 2024 may ultimately be remembered mainly for the amazing outburst of Andrey Rublev (or should that now be “Andrey RUDEblev”?) in his semi-final against Bublik, for which he was defaulted. However, if that childish display evoked memories of John McEnroe at his worst, then to see Ugo Humbert, another leftie, delivering a series of wide and seemingly eternally swinging serves against Bublik (a player who usually excels against left-handers) in the final evoked memories of McEnroe at his best. Humbert may never quite match the majesty of McEnroe, but in his slow, steady but ultimately remarkable improvement as a player, he may yet follow him into the world’s top 10 and beyond.

Main Photo Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports


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