French Open: Cameron Norrie reaps rewards of challenging himself

Cam Norrie had a breakthrough victory over American John Isner recently. Picture: PA.
Cam Norrie had a breakthrough victory over American John Isner recently. Picture: PA.
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I       t was only four months ago when Cam Norrie (then known to the majority of non-British tennis watchers as Cam Who?) made his tour level debut on a clay court.

It was Britain’s first round in the World Group of the Davis Cup against Spain, in Spain, on Spain’s favourite surface. And Norrie, then ranked No 114, took on the world No 23 Roberto Bautista Agut and beat him in five sets. He backed that up by taking the No 21, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, to four sets the following day and suddenly a new clay court star had been born.

No one, least of all Norrie, was expecting such success, but realising that this was a new opportunity opening up for him, he ditched his plans to go to Asia and bank a few easy ranking points in the hard court Challenger events there and, instead, decided to see whether he really could make a name for himself on the slow red dirt. Many weeks, a victory over John Isner and a spot in the semi-finals in Lyon later, Norrie has made his mark.

“It’s just putting in work every single day,” Norrie said. “It’s not been the easiest couple of months for me. I could easily have gone to Asia and picked up points playing on hard courts at the Challenger level. But I wanted to think long term and keep improving and put myself against the best players in the world.

“I managed to have such a great week last week. Beating Isner was huge for me. I don’t really play that well against big servers. It was good for me to stay focused throughout that match.

“It’s not a big shock to me. I’ve felt that I’m playing well. I was destined to have a good week at some point. It was nice to string some wins together and feel confidence coming into the French Open.”

Until a week ago, Norrie was one ranking spot away from direct entry to the French Open main draw but then Andy Murray pulled out with his injured hip and the 22-year-old squeezed in. With no need to face the rigours of the qualifying competition, he was able to head to Lyon and reach his first tour semi-final. On the back of that result last week, he expected to be ranked No 85 when the new list came out this morning. For good measure, he knows that he is safely into the main draw at Wimbledon, too.

“It feels great,” Norrie said. “It was actually nice to get into Wimbledon on my own ranking and hopefully give another player a chance to get a wild card. And you don’t really owe anyone any favours, so it was kind of nice to get in on my ranking.

“I’ve got so many great tournaments lined up, so I’m really, really looking forward to it and just trying to stay healthy and kind of embrace every moment and just learn from everything, because this is my first year – though it’s my second Wimbledon – and it’s all new experiences for me. I’m just trying to embrace it and keep my expectations low and just play some great tennis.”

Norrie’s rapid development on the clay has been helped by Kyle Edmund, pictured, 
Britain’s No 1.

The two men practised together before the start of the clay court season and the Scot mopped up advice and 
information.

“Seeing his level, he’s helped me a lot,” Norrie said. “His ball-striking is unbelievable. When you are playing against Kyle, you can never really relax. He’s on it. He’s a good role model. He’s very, very professional. He’s helped me in terms of some advice before Davis Cup. He went through the same thing, making his debut. He’s very professional when it comes to viewing a lot of the things. I think he’s a very, very good role model to follow behind and I like the way he plays.”

He will put that advice to good use today against Peter Gojowczyk, the 28-year-old German world No 43 – and the beaten finalist in Geneva on Saturday. And if Gojowczyk thinks Norrie might be overawed on his French Open debut, he needs to think again.

“I think it’s going to be a battle,” Norrie said. “These five-set matches can go anywhere. It’s not really about the tennis so much, it’s just whoever is the better competitor, whoever is tougher mentally to get through it. I’m really looking forward to it, feeling confident, feeling great, just ready to out-tough this guy.”