Is Ugo Humbert already the best Frenchman on the ATP Tour?

UGO Humbert is the best Frenchman on the ATP Tour. It is a big statement considering the amount of French talent going around at the moment. The nation has no shortage of talent, led by top talent Gael Monfils, the always exciting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and then the likes of Benoit Paire, Adrian Mannarino and Richard Gasquet cemented inside the top 50 players in the world. But unlike all of those players who are the wrong side of 30 – Paire is the youngest at 31 – Ugo Humbert is 22 and on the verge of breaking out in his career.

It could be argued he did just that in 2020, having his best season to-date and showing what he is capable of on the world stage. Prior to this year, Humber had a 19-26 record, but improved that to 43-38 after a huge 24-12 year that included two ATP Tour titles. The first one came in Auckland early in the year, defeating Paire in the final there, before backing up his performance indoors post the COVID break at Antwerp. His performances saw him move from 57th in the world up to number 30 in the past 12 months, giving French fans hope that he can lead the next wave of talents.

France is never short on up-and-comers, always having competitive players that will impress on the world stage. What makes Humbert so special is that he is that 188cm and is the pure power player who loves to win points quickly. He can make mistakes and is still raw, but wins a lot of points in a multitude of ways, be it off his serve, his forehand, backhand or approaching the net. In short, Humbert has a lot of tricks to his arsenal, and while he is raw, he can do a lot of damage when on song with his power plays.

It is remarkable to think that Humbert started his year with a straight sets loss in the third round of a Challenger event in Bendigo before posting a stunning maiden title win in Auckland. What made the victory in Auckland so special was the fact he knocked off four top 50 players including Casper Ruud, Denis Shapovalov, John Isner and Paire in that time. That is quite the mix of talents, and while he suffered a four-set loss to John Millman at the Australian Open and then bowed out in Montpellier to Feliciano Lopez, he reached the semi-finals at Delray Beach and arguably should have gone further.

Humbert’s Grand Slam record did not improve, with a second round defeat to Matteo Berrettini after a straight sets loss to Grigor Dimitrov in the first round at the Cincinnati masters, but he then toppled Fabio Fognini before losing to Shapovalov in Rome. He then stunned Daniil Medvedev in Hamburg before dropping his quarter finals loss to Ruud also squared that head-to-head up this year. A forgettable first round loss in Roland Garros to Marc Polmans meant he won one of four matches at the majors, a key reason why he could not crack into the top 20.

Another three top 50 wins at Antwerp led him to the title, defeating Pablo Carreno Busta, Daniel Evans and Alex de Minaur. What makes those three players so different to his hat-trick of Shapovalov, Isner and Paire in Auckland is the fact the former are all-court or counter punchers, compared to the latter who are power players and big servers. In other words, Humbert can play – and win – against all types of players.

Another win over Ruud in Paris was followed by a hard fought victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas, and an equally challenging victory over Marin Cilic before being stopped by Milos Raonic in three sets in the quarter finals. The Masters ended his year, but he had one eight of nine to cap off the season and knocked off two top six players in the final couple of months. All in all, 2020 could be considered a success.

As of now, Humbert is yet to make his debut at the Davis Cup. That must change. He simply has to be in, and if Monfils is fit, then France should take those two as the starting singles players. Tsonga is unfortunately not as durable as he used to be, and one cannot trust Paire consistently. Right now, Mannarino should be considered ahead of both, but the French love to play with flair, and unfortunately as solid as Mannarino is, he does not have the big serve that the Davis Cup team loves. With such a strong doubles pairing of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, the French have to start thinking about the future.

Not only should Humbert be thrown into the Davis Cup team, France need to start considering the next generation of talents before the top stars retire, all bar maybe Paire will be on the way out in the next few years, so the planning time is now. It is time to see whether Lucas Pouille and Corentin Moutet can sink or swim, particularly the latter who is still 21. Hugo Gaston at 20 has talent throw him in the extended squad and even Gregoire Barrere and Benjamin Bonzi are putting their hands up.

Whatever happens, Humbert simply has to be in because he is France’s next big thing.

Picture: Getty Images

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments