Cameron Norrie, the British No 2, lost his War of the Worlds with Aljaz Bedene – a match which started out homeless but was soon packing them in.
War of the Worlds? Well, the composer of the prog-rock musical, Jeff Wayne, has mentored Bedene, who’s a Slovenian-turned-Brit-turned-Slovenian. But Norrie is pretty exotic himself, having brought to the Wimbledon table a Scottish dad, Welsh mum, South African birthplace, New Zealand upbringing and a tennis apprenticeship in the US with the Texas Christian University.
The encounter was “To Be Arranged” until it landed around tea-time on Court 14 and fans standing behind the trim rows of seats had to crane for a view of a match which, pitting the world No 75 (Norrie) against the No 71, was an excellent scrap, eventually claimed 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 by Bedene.
It began by going with serve, with the serves usually coming to the rescue anytime the opponent vaguely threatened. In the seventh game Bedene eked out a break-point but couldn’t seize the opportunity. Three games later Norrie got his chance and took it, with his best stroke, the backhand, flashing cross-court to clinch him the first set in 36 minutes.
The second set followed the same pattern again up to the seventh game and this time Bedene, presented with another opening, didn’t pass it up. Norrie, pictured, saved one of the three set points on offer then double-faulted. But Bedene couldn’t take advantage and Norrie, more in control of his shots, broke straight back.
The best rally of the match until that point would give Bedene another opportunity but when he served for the set to level the match Norrie’s best backhands until that stage rescued him again. The first was a thunderous shot about which there could be no quibbling. The second was a lob which plonked on to the baseline. Bedene wondered if it was long but the call never came. Then, just when Norrie was looking to take control, Bedene pounced in the tie-break to level.
With their colourful back-stories full of dense plots and quirky characterisation – Bedene’s fiancee used to be a member of Slovenia’s answer to the Spice Girls – these two were serving up a gripping affair. Bedene was playing the more aggressively but Norrie held firm. Bedene carved out two set points in the third only for Norrie to save them, then force another tie-break. The outcome, however, was exactly the same as the past breaker.
Norrie, who only turned pro a year ago and has climbed 150 places in the rankings in that time, had only once before played a five-setter. He couldn’t quite take this match all the way as Bedene’s arrowed forehands proved just too much for him.