Cameron Norrie may have won just one match at Roland Garros this week (and even that match was abandoned after just a set when his opponent, Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, retired injured), but it feels like so much more. That is because even in the short time that he spent on court in Paris, he did enough to show that his Davis Cup performances against Spain for Great Britain were not a one-off and that instead he is a realistic contender for the world’s top 20 in the not too distant future.
Norrie lost his second round match at the French Open against the new French No.1, Lucas Pouille, in four sets, 6-2 6-4 5-7 7-6(3). Having been fairly passive against the much higher ranked Pouille for the first two sets, Norrie literally rallied in the final two sets, winning the third and holding a set-point in the fourth until Pouille won it on a tie-break. In those four sets, played out over two days after Norrie prevented Pouille from winning in straight sets on Wednesday night, Norrie showed–against the finest French player on his home court–that he absolutely adores the big stage. In fact, it appears that the bigger the stage, the better he plays.
That trait, which is hugely admirable (and important) in any sportsperson or indeed in any performer of any kind, was first shown near the start of the year. That was when the absence through injury of Andy Murray (an absence that still continues, nearly a year after Murray last played on tour) and Kyle Edmund (who was exhausted after his run to the Australian Open semi-final) necessitated Norrie’s promotion to play two singles rubbers in Great Britain’s Davis Cup tie against Spain. “C-No” (as he may yet come to be called in our age of acronyms) showed that he was not only a big-stage player but a natural clay-courter as he first beat Roberto Bautista Agut, winning in five sets after going two sets down, and then narrowly lost in four sets against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
That highly favourable first impression of Norrie on the main stage has been confirmed ever since by his rapid rise up the rankings, from being outside the world’s top 200 at the start of the year to his current ranking of 85 after losing to Pouille. Much of that rise was due to his performance at Lyon last week, in one of the traditional warm-up events for the French Open, when he beat John Isner to reach the semi-finals. And if he can remain inside the top 100, he will receive automatic entry to Majors, starting with Wimbledon next month.
It will be fascinating to see Norrie make his second appearance at Wimbledon, after losing in the first round last year to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He will obviously hope for a far more favourable draw this time around, but if he gets it there is every chance that he will show–as he has already shown in the Davis Cup and at Roland Garros this week–that he thrives in the spotlight. And if he does win a match, or two, or more, at Wimbledon, the education, experience and media training that he has gained while studying at Texas Christian University, not to mention his exemplary movement and powerful ground strokes, should stand him in good stead.
Fortunately for Norrie, he will not be the main attraction at Wimbledon. Indeed, he will not even be the main British attraction. That will be either Andy Murray, if he returns, or Kyle Edmund, who, of course, has had something of a head-start on Norrie by going straight onto the main tour rather than studying and playing at a US college. And there is also Dan Evans, who is slowly making his own comeback after being banned for a year for using cocaine. It will take Evans time to make that comeback, but before his drugs ban he had already shown that he was comfortably a Top 50 player.
The fact that before too long there will potentially be four British men ranked in the top 100 (if Murray returns from injury and Evans climbs back up the rankings) will please Leon Smith, the British Davis Cup captain, more than anyone. When Britain won the Davis Cup in 2015, it was almost exclusively due to the astonishing efforts of Andy Murray, with only James Ward winning another point for Britain in the singles throughout that campaign (albeit a crucial one, against the USA in the first round). If Britain can win their World Group relegation play-off against Uzbekistan in September (and playing at home, they have a great chance), then Smith can look forward to 2019 with confidence and perhaps even dream of having another tilt at winning the Davis Cup.
For now, that all remains in the future, as, hopefully, do the best performances by Cameron Norrie. However, he has already shown that he has not only the skill required to reach the world’s Top 20 but the sheer single-mindedness. That was demonstrated when he revealed after his loss to Pouille that he had had to miss his grandmother’s funeral to compete in Paris. Although it was no doubt a tremendous wrench for Norrie not to attend, it proved that tennis is his absolute No. 1 priority. If he can ally that mental focus to further technical improvements in his game (perhaps most importantly beefing up his serve), then he has every chance of following Kyle Edmund into the world’s Top 20 and perhaps even beyond.
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