05:47 PM GMT May 21, 2019
There's nothing like playing at home, especially if you're #NextGenATP Frenchman Ugo Humbert during your first full season on the ATP Tour.
The 20-year-old left-hander made his first tour-level semi-final at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille in February, and on Monday, during his debut in Lyon, the Metz native broke a four-match losing streak to make the second round at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, an ATP 250 event.
The Next Gen ATP Finals hopeful hit eight aces and converted six of nine break points to beat Brit No. 2 Cameron Norrie 6-1, 6-3.
“I stayed in my playing identity, which means hitting hard. I strike fast and play fast, so during the first rallies of the game, I knew what to do, and I’m happy for having played a complete game,” he said.
Humbert is also pleased to have started a new winning streak after such a strong start to his 2019. The left-hander qualified and beat six-time ATP Tour titlist Pablo Cuevas to make the second round at the ASB Classic in Auckland in January.
One month later, in Marseille, Humbert beat Latvian veteran Ernests Gulbis, then-No. 13 Borna Coric of Croatia for his first Top 20 win, and Germany's Matthias Bachinger to make his first ATP Tour semi-final.
“I think that I worked hard. It’s a moment in which everything starts to come together. It’s tough to explain with words. But my progress is rather good. And there is still plenty of room for improvement, which is great,” Humbert said.
Humbert struggled from there, however, losing his openers at the ATP Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, and in Marrakech and Munich. But he's pleased to be back in France and to be playing well.
Humbert needed only 66 minutes to beat Norrie, who's playing at a career-high No. 41 after qualifying and making the second round at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, a Masters 1000 event.
“I’m very happy as it’s been a while since I played this well on clay. I know I can do it,” said Humbert, who celebrated his first clay-court win at tour-level. “I trained well last week with a lot of serenity and confidence. I felt really good on the court.”
Humbert can find serenity on the court – and away from the clay. The Frenchman relaxes after a day of training by playing the piano 30 to 45 minutes every day.
He started when he was about five years old at the urging of his parents. Now he always travels with his keyboard, and the French Tennis Federation has a piano at his training facility in Paris.
“I try to play as often as I can,” Humbert said. “I really enjoy playing, and it is very relaxing. During those moments, I don’t think about anything else.”
On the court, the left-hander has been working on playing more aggressively, the tactics that nearly carried him to the Next Gen ATP Finals last year.
“He is always positive. He knows what he wants, and he goes for it. He plays aggressively because he wants to win,” said Cedric Raynaud, who's coached Humbert for the past five years. “He has improved because he has been working so hard. We have been working on keeping his positive mentality throughout training and matches.”
Humbert finished one spot away from making the second Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan last November. Poland's Hubert Hurkacz won the ATP Challenger Tour event in Brest to surge into the final qualifying spot and book his spot in Milan, just edging Humbert in the final ATP Race To Milan standings.
But the 6'2” Humbert has one more year of eligibility, as he was born in 1998 and will turn 21 in June. This year, he's determined to be one of the eight best 21-and-under players who compete in Milan from 5-9 November. Humbert is currently in eighth place in the Race. The top seven players on 28 October will qualify automatically, with the eighth place reserved for a wild card.
“It is one of my goals this year to participate and be one of the best young players,” Humbert said. “I will give everything in order to be there this year.”