Cameron Norrie battles, breaks down at Wimbledon then admits: "I was lucky"
What is the chain that Cameron Norrie wears around his neck and what is its significance? Maybe we’ll find out if he keeps on winning.
But right now, because of his deeply unshowy demeanour, it’s incongruous. By his shy and retiring standards, it’s ostentatious and almost decadent, like he wants to challenge hip-hop superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West to a bling-off.
But what an almighty scrap was demanded of him. We knew he was a precision guy. We knew he was as careful with his emotions as his shots. Last night, though, he had to battle like never before.
There were times against Belgium’s David Goffin when he was being so far outplayed that it only seemed a matter of time before he would be popped in the box marked “British - Plucky”.
But time was on his side. This epic stretched to three hours and 28 minutes and he needed every single second. And the crowd were on his side. At the end this man of few words could hardly talk but made sure he thanked No1 Court. And then - what was this? - he seemed to get something in his eye.
Over on Centre, Djokovic was coming back from two sets down to claim his place in Friday’s semi-finals. Serbia’s defending champ needed longer to overcome Jannik Sinner of Italy but only by seven minutes. Scant consolation for Norrie who will know he’ll have to play much better to have a chance of being part of the showpiece come Sunday.
Centre is celebrating its centenary this year. No1 sits in its shadow but has a birthday, too. Possibly never in those 25 years has a player struck so many sumptuous winners - 49 to Norrie’s 38, although it seemed like more - and dominated a match to this degree only to lose. The stats that mattered were 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 to Britain’s No1.
Always a classy shot-maker, Goffin loves the grass, and having got “nowhere” in previous two quarters against Djokovic and Andy Murray, had been hoping for third time lucky.
This was new territory for Norrie who is slowly becoming more familiar to the SW19 massive through a trickle of personal detail. But the guts on display here - and, yes, the greetin’, too - will have helped quicken that process.
“I was pretty fortunate to get through that one,” Norrie admitted afterwards. “All credit to David. He came out firing with really accurate tennis and took a lot of my energy and rhythm. I lost focus for a bit but managed to get it back.”
The match had been “crazy”. He used this word five times. About his tears at the end he said: “All the hard work, all the sacrifices, playing in front of my family and friends - it just hit me.”
Norrie’s billowy, collarless shirt gives him the appearance of an industrious football midfielder, always ready for some heavy lifting, but he’s not without flair on either flank. Trouble was, early on his forehand was malfunctioning, And his serve wasn’t much better.
Goffin joked beforehand that in addition to Norrie he’d be playing the crowd but he might have hoped for slightly more appreciation from them for his flashing drives.
Not that the stands, for Norrie, comprised a great slavering mob. That would come later. The man doesn’t yet provoke his own version of Murraymania and the first attempt at the “Norrie, Norrie, Norrie” chant didn’t really fly.
At the first break point against Norrie they got right behind him. But it wasn’t enough.
From that moment and the remainder of the first set, Goffin’s shots were that bit more precise, that bit more dead in the corners. The Belgian pressurised Norrie’s serve, forcing him to rush and overhit. On his own serve he gave up little. Any long rallies were invariably his. He was silky, Norrie was stuttering. Norrie saved himself from love-40 down on his serve but when it happened again the match was starting to drift beyond his reach. Then, out of nowhere, Goffin turned in his worst game and Norrie broke back. Out of nowhere it was one set-all.
Goffin quickie regained control and once again it was hard to see how Norrie was going to turn things around but, slowly but surely, he was finding his range on the forehand and Goffin, who’d had to come through five sets to get this far, was looking ever so slightly puggled.
He was still, however, a superior opponent to those Norrie had faced previously and his backhand remained a weapon. But the crowd sensed something. The earlier chant was ditched in favour of the football-style “Oh Norrie, Norrie … ” Their man responded and grabbed the fourth set in a manner which must have shocked Goffin as much as losing the second had been.
In the final set the titanic struggle was almost too tense to watch and yet no one could avert their eyes. In the crucial 11th game Norrie shot to love-40 and touched his chain for good luck. He needed it.
After Djokovic’s own five-setter, turned on its head after a toilet break, the No1 seed acknowledged that Norrie come Friday would have nothing to lose and all of the support. But his opponent confessed to some confusion: “I’ve been told Henman Hill is being re-named Norrie Knoll. I don’t even know what a knoll is … ”
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