Unseeded Ugo Humbert toppled big-serving John Isner on Friday to make his first ATP final and set up an all-French showdown with Benoit Paire at the ATP Auckland Classic.
Humbert attacked Isner at his strongest point, the serve, on his way to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory, while fifth-seed Paire beat Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 7-6 (7/1), 6-2.
“I will enjoy playing Ugo in the final, it’s something special between French guys,” a relieved Paire after settling down to calmly take his deciding set after a prolonged mid-match outburst.
The often emotional Paire had broken Hurkacz at 2-2 in the second set, but when Hurkacz broke back immediately, the Frenchman began chafing at outside distraction.
By the time the set reached a tie-break he was yelling at the umpire to take action about crowd noise when he served.
Amid the arguing, he was docked a point for smashing his racquet on the ground and from heading towards a two-set win he ended up losing the tie-break 7/1.
But order was restored in the deciding set as Paire, mixing his power game with delicate drop shots, broke Hurkacz three more times and then apologised for his behaviour.
“I’m very sorry, I broke a racquet, I was a bit nervous playing Hubert,” he said before adding: “I have only two left so I hope I can win the final.”
The 21-year-old Humbert, who had called his quarter-final win over second seed Denis Shapovalov the biggest victory of his career, went one better to master Isner’s powerful serve and make his first final.
Although Isner managed 12 aces, it was down on his tournament average 17, and when he did not beat Humbert with his first serve he struggled to win the point.
“It was a great match, I returned very well,” Humbert said after setting up the first set win with a point off Isner’s first serve in the tie-break, and opening up the match-defining lead when he broke Isner at the start of the second set.
“I played good at the key points and I’m really happy to reach my first final.”
Humbert had never progressed past the semi-finals before and lost to Isner the one time they had met previously, at the Newport semi-finals six months ago.
But he was not overawed by the occasion and showed no sign of nerves at 5-4 in the second set when he served out the match without dropping a point.
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