DUBAI: Andy Murray’s hopes of fairy-tale ending to what seems likely to be his last appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships were dashed by in-form Frenchman Ugo Humbert, who defeated the 36-year-old Scot 6-2, 6-4 on center court at Dubai Tennis Stadium on Wednesday night.
The three-time Grand Slam champion, winner of this tournament in 2017, cut a frustrated figure against the No. 5 seed, who is 11 years his junior.
Clearly desperate to give his enthusiastic and vocal Dubai fans something to cheer, Murray, who beat Fernando Verdasco in the final here seven years ago, could be seen continually talking to himself as he struggled with his own game and the energy of his opponent.
He won the opening game on serve but then Humbert, who needed three sets to see off veteran wildcard Gael Monfils in his opening match, broke serve twice in succession. He simply had too much for Murray to cope with and took the opening set 6-2.
The second set followed a similar path, with Murray holding serve in the opening game, only for Humbert to break twice in a row as he calmly wrapped up the set 6-4 to claim a spot in the quarter-finals.
Murray received a standing ovation as he left the court in Dubai for what is probably the final time, the fans acknowledging his service not only to the sport in general but to the evolution of this particular tournament.
After the game, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist admitted he is in the twilight of his illustrious career.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m likely not going to play past this summer,” he said. “I get asked about it after every single match that I play, every single tournament that I play.
“I’m not going to talk more about that between now and whenever the time comes for me to stop. But yeah, I don’t plan on playing much past this summer.”
Humbert, who has an ATP title to his name already this year, thanks to victory in Marseille this month, was a picture of relaxation as he celebrated his victory and looked forward to the quarter-finals.
“Consistency has been the key for me this year,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m really happy that I’m playing well. It’s really nice to play in a venue like this in front of a great crowd. I was really calm today and knew what I needed to do.”
In the bottom half of the draw, No. 2 seed and last year’s beaten finalist, Andrey Rublev, was the first player to book a quarter-final berth, dashing the hopes of French qualifier Arthur Cazaux.
Cazaux, who was making his debut in Dubai this week, produced some fine tennis to get through the qualifiers and then defeat Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 32. But Rublev took control of their last-16 clash on center court from the opening game, breaking his opponent’s serve and holding firm to take the first set 6-4.
The second set went with serve until Rublev, a winner in Hong Kong in January, broke Cazaux in the seventh game and held his subsequent serves to seal a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Alexander Bublik booked his place in the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-2) victory over Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands. Bublik, who survived a scare in his opening match when he came back from a set down against qualifier Tomas Machac, was once again pushed hard by Griekspoor, but dug deep to secure victory.