Pressure? Nah, Humbert Reaches European Open Final

WASHINGTON/ANTWERP, October 25, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

France’s Ugo Humbert and Dan Evans of Great Britain played one of the longest ATP Tour matches of the season in the semifinal round of the ATP 250 European Open in Antwerp, Belgium, Saturday afternoon. It lasted three hours and 12 minutes and included a whopping 239 points between them.

If the No. 35 Evans could have a do-over, it would have lasted only two sets, spread over two hours and 26 minutes, and covering 169 points. That’s because Evans should have won the match in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6. Instead, he was unable to convert any of four match points he possessed during a second-set tie break with the 38th-ranked Humbert – at 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and at 7-6. Humbert saved them all like a clutch football goalkeeper stopping penalty kicks during a shootout. The 22-year-old Humbert stymied Evans and kept the Briton from achieving his 17th victory of the pandemic-interrupted season.

Forty-six minutes later, on his own third match point opportunity, Humbert completed his comeback with a 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4 win over Evans to set up a Sunday afternoon title match with No. 8 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, who upset No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov from Bulgaria, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-4, in two hours and 48 minutes to reach his seventh ATP Tour final and first since reaching the Swiss Indoors final in Basel a year ago. The victory improved the 29th-ranked de Minaur’s win-loss record to 10-7.

Humbert, who won his first ATP Tour title at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand in January, saved 11 of 14 break points and converted three of 10 break points against Evans. It added up to his 20th tour-level victory of the season.

When you lose three match points like Evans did, going from 6-3 ahead to 6-all – and have to change sides – it gives you a little bit of time to think about it. Although the British No. 1 regrouped nicely, hitting a winner against Humbert to set up a fourth match point, he promptly hit a long forehand return that flummoxed him. To add insult to injury, Humbert hit an up-the-line passing shot against the lunging Evans to go ahead 8-7 on his own serve. Then, he hit an overhead smash that Evans couldn’t respond to in time. Instead, Evans netted a weak return and the tie break was Humbert’s 9-7. From there, the momentum and fortune were all on Humbert’s racquet for the duration.

Humbert was asked during his virtual press conference what was going through his mind as Evans closed in on him during the second-set tie break. He said: “I knew it was possible to do it; I tried to play them one by one. It’s tough to win against [Evans].

“It’s a very nice victory. It was a lot of fun. There was no pressure.”

Later, as quoted by the ATP Tour website, Humbert added: “The start of the match wasn’t easy as he didn’t give me much pace and suddenly, he accelerated. I needed to find a solution and came to the net more. I was four match points down, but I was mentally strong and I took my opportunities I remained aggressive and when I won the second set, I knew I’d regained the momentum. I’m very pleased to have reached the second ATP Tour final of my career.”

European Open news & notes

• Ugo Humbert becomes the fourth Frenchman to reach the European Open final. He follows 2016 champion Richard Gasquet, 2017 winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 2018 finalist Gaël Monfils.

• Grigor Dimitrov, 29, who lost to Alex de Minaur in the second semifinal, was bidding to reach his 16th ATP Tour final. His most recent final came at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Touranment in Rotterdam in February 2018. His record dropped to 16-10.

• No. 2 seeds John Peers of Australia and Michael Venus from New Zealand reached the doubles final with a 6-3, 6-4 win over alternates Pablo Andújar of Spain and Sander Arends from the Netherlands. They will face unseeded Rohan Bopanna of India and Matwe Middelkoop from the Netherlands, who upset No. 5 seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, both from Belgium, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4.

• Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor. On Saturday, Karen Khachanov took to social media and offered an apology for his conduct and behavior the day before, in which he kicked the net and swatted at the umpire’s chair with his racquet following an outburst during his quarterfinal loss to Dan Evans on Friday. Khachanov’s unruly conduct grew out of an argument over a line call that went against him and wasn’t subject to challenge since the European Open was not using electronic line judging (Hawk-Eye) during the tournament.