Humbert beats Paire for 1st title in final in Auckland

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Ugo Humbert, of France, prepares to hit a return to countryman Benoit Paire during the Winston-Salem Open tennis tournament Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Ugo Humbert claimed his first ATP Tour singles title Saturday when he beat fellow Frenchman Benoit Paire 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-6 (5) in the final of the ASB Classic.

The 21-year-old Humbert, playing in his first tour final, lived up to his reputation as one of the next generation of tennis stars when he edged the more-experienced Paire in a match that lasted more than 2-1/2 hours.

Humbert beat Casper Ruud, second-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov and fourth-seeded two-time champion John Isner on his way to his first career final. He then endured a tumultuous final set in which he served for the tournament at 5-3, held a championship point on Paire’s serve at 5-4 and had to go deep into a tiebreaker to finally clinch a breakthrough victory.

“It was the tournament of revenge,” Humbert said. “I’ve lost against four of the five players I played so it’s a great improvement for me and I couldn’t dream of a better beginning of this year.”

Paire was below his best for much of the match. He incurred two point penalties for ball or racquet abuse on his way to the final and was warned again Saturday for hitting a ball out of the stadium. He then engaged in a long debate with the chair umpire over a particularly a point and the dispute seemed to lift him in the final set when he made Humbert fight for his win.

The match was as close as the form of both players in the past week suggested. Humbert has been strong on serve, putting 66 per cent of first serves in play and winning 86 per cent of first serve points — the best record at the tournament.

Both players looked nervous early and there were four breaks of serve in the first seven games of the first set. Humbert then won five points in a row to take the tiebreaker 7-2.

Paire was stronger in the second set, breaking Humbert in the fourth game, then saving break points in the ninth game to level the match.

Humbert broke Paire in the second game of the deciding set and seemed on top. But after serving for the match he dropped his serve in the ninth game and the match went into an inevitable tiebreaker. Both players dropped a point early but Humbert won the sixth point on Paire’s serve and held on to clinch the win.

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