Left-handed. Known to sport a bandana. Speedy around the court. Possesses forehand spin and a crisp, flat backhand. Member of the Top 10. Rafael Nadal might most aptly fit the description, but Cameron Norrie ticks those boxes, too.
He tipped his fellow British left-hander Jack Draper to one day make the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings after their clash at the Miami Open presented by Itau last month, but for Norrie that day arrives today. Anyone who watches the 26-year-old knows he has grown to become one of the game’s fiercest competitors. Indeed, a tough out.
Simply glance at the players to get the better of him this season. Their average rank is 15. Two of the last four to down Norrie won those tournaments, with the other two, Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud, duelling in Sunday’s Miami final.
Norrie’s title at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com (d. Opelka) in February demonstrated his ability to overcome adversity. He lost his first four encounters of 2022, saying he played “maybe my worst match in the last eight months or so” in a first-round defeat at the Australian Open to one of last year’s NextGen artists, Sebastian Korda. But Norrie edged Korda in a third-set tie-break in the Delray Beach quarter-finals and kept on going.
Nadal noted Norrie’s immense progress after beating him in the final of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in Acapulco the following week.
“Winning last week in Delray Beach, now playing the final here, back-to-back is a difficult thing,” Nadal, an avid tennis observer in addition to being the record 21-time Grand Slam champion, said in the winner’s speech. “You had an amazing season last year, improving a lot on the ranking, and of course, in the level of tennis.”
Norrie bobs up and down waiting to receive serve, reminiscent of another Spanish gladiator, David Ferrer. On the subject of Spain, an indication of what was to come for Norrie transpired in Davis Cup action in Marbella in 2018. Ranked 114 at the time, he came from two sets down to beat one of tennis’ most resilient competitors, Roberto Bautista Agut. It remains Bautista Agut’s lone career defeat when leading by two sets.
Norrie earned All-America honours at Texas Christian University in the U.S. in a collegiate stint that drastically shaped his career, more so even than his Davis Cup heroics on the clay.
Remember a young Ferrer being disciplined by coach Javier Piles for not working hard enough and later entering construction for a very brief spell when he thought tennis wasn’t for him? Norrie, by his own admission, wasn’t fully committed to his tennis at TCU in his early days. A moped accident that required stitches following a night out altered his mindset, he said.
Andy Murray, who knows a thing or two about putting in the work, complimented Norrie after he bagged his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells (d. Basilashvili) last October.
“I think he’s a great example for not just British players but all tennis players to look at and go, if you put the effort in day in, day out and properly dedicate yourself to the sport, have an attitude like he does, it can take you a long, long way,” said the three-time Grand Slam winner.
Game-wise, similar to Nadal, Ferrer and Bautista Agut, Norrie does not necessarily win quick service points. His average ace count in his remarkable 2021 term — when he appeared in six finals and soared from 71 to 12 in the year-end ATP Rankings — stood at 4.7. He builds points behind the serve and uses his stellar movement to counter returns when stretched.
Meanwhile, Norrie ranked fifth in return games won last year and seventh in return points won on first serve. That combination of spin and loop on the forehand, and flatter backhand, presents rivals with an awkward mix, especially given the dearth of left-handers on tour.
His finals in 2021 came on hard courts, grass and clay, in Europe and North America. Auckland marked the site of his first, special, final in 2019. He grew up in the iconic New Zealand city, where first coach Julia Sim made, perhaps, the first huge decision in Norrie’s career — turning him from a right-hander to left-hander.
Along with being born in Johannesburg and residing in London, Norrie figures to be one of the most cosmopolitan of the 177 players to ever break the Top 10. In a sport where acclimatising to new environments, and quickly, is pivotal, his worldly background would seem to put him at ease on his travails.
With the Asian swing returning this year, Norrie has the opportunity to make a final in another continent.
For now it is the red clay, at a time when his career is at green for ‘go.’