By Ottawa Sportspage, For Les Internationaux de Tennis de Gatineau
Ugo Humbert travelled roughly 6,000 km from Metz, France to play tennis at the Gatineau Futures presented by Turpin Group and National Bank Financial event, but the tournament champ was unquestionably in his element come the final on March 4 at the Gatineau Sporthèque.
“It was my first tournament in Canada, but it really felt like I was at home,” highlights Humbert, who earned the first service break of the match to win the first set 6-4 over American Strong Kirchheimer, then cruised on to a 6-0 second-set victory and the title.
“It was a real pleasure to have all these people out. I really felt the crowd’s support,” the 19-year-old lefty adds. “The welcome I received here in Quebec was just extraordinary.”
Humbert downed three Americans, a Colombian and a German at the $25,000 US Futures event. There was representation from 14 countries in total at the International Tennis Federation competition, which features players generally ranked between 250-400 in the world.
It’s a lot of time on the road for athletes seeking to climb the ranks like Humbert, who’s also been to Switzerland and Qatar in recent months.
“You have to be in good shape, but it’s really a wonderful experience. It’s really great to be able to see all these different countries,” says Humbert, noting it can often be tiring nonetheless. “But when you love something, you push through the fatigue, there’s no question. I just love all the emotions in tennis. I really enjoy what I do.”
Humbert’s next goals are to continue to improve his world ranking (now set to rise from 328) and maybe even qualify for the French Open.
“That’s always been my dream, to play at Roland Garros,” smiles the man who sports the stripes of the French flag on his shirt sleeve. “I’m off to a good start, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and a lot of matches to win.”
Humbert was the second teenager in a row to capture the Gatineau Futures crown. Last year, it was Denis Shapovalov kickstarting his magical run that included a win over 15-time Grand Slam champ Rafael Nadal en route to the Rogers Cup semi-finals, a round of 16 appearance at the U.S. Open, and the Canadian Press Male Athlete of the Year award.
“We certainly would have been happy to have Shapovalov back here this year,” signals Johanne Demers, Co-Director of the event alongside Mathieu Toupin. “But our job is really to help launch these young players onto the top pro circuits. When they don’t come back, it’s a good sign. We’ve succeeded.”
Gatineau ITFs invite Ottawa to participate
The next chance to see the tennis stars-in-the-making live in our region comes up July 14-22 when the $100,000 dual-gender Gatineau National Bank Challenger returns to Parc de l’Île.
“It’s really exciting to see all these talented young players who really want to mark their mark up close,” Demers underlines. “We invite everyone in the region to add that to their calendar now. It’ll be great tennis again.”
Fuelled in part by the momentum from last year’s successful Davis Cup at TD Place, the Gatineau ITF events have received increased support from Ottawa’s tennis community.
“What we really want to do is unite the clubs in Ontario and Quebec as much as possible to collaborate,” explains Demers, who hosted a reception for 25 tennis organizations from both sides of the river during the Futures.
The larger Challenger event will need 250 volunteers, with a wide range of opportunities available, including ball-boys/girls and billets to host visiting players.
“That can be a really neat opportunity for families,” Demers notes. “That service is really appreciated by the players. They don’t make a lot of money, we won’t pretend otherwise. It costs a lot to travel on the circuit.”
There are many opportunities for businesses to be involved as well, including suite rentals or lunch in a VIP section to entertain clients.
“We’re open to all ideas,” Demers indicates. “We really want to serve their needs.”
On top of their presenting partners at Turpin Group and National Bank Financial, the Gatineau ITF events receive support from the Government of Quebec and City of Gatineau, and many more secondary sponsors and providers. The Sporthèque lets the organizers take over their facility all week, ITF and Tennis Canada officials help make it all run smoothly, and the army of volunteers make everyone feel welcome, while the enthusiastic spectators make it lively. It’s a big effort from many to put on the show.
“I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this event a big success,” underlines Demers, whose organizing committee works virtually year-round to put everything together. “We’ve got a great team.”