Wimbledon 2022: Cameron Norrie ready to take on one of the big dogs and prove that he “belongs”

It’s the hat which sticks in Cameron Norrie’s memory. Andy Murray was wearing one as usual but, on this scorching day in 2013, so was Novak Djokovic, who ever since and in all senses seems to have played tennis with hardly a hair out of place.

Cameron Norrie practices for today's Wimbledon semi-final, the biggest game of his life
Cameron Norrie practices for today's Wimbledon semi-final, the biggest game of his life

That was the day Murray won Wimbledon for the first time. “I can remember the match point over and over,” Murray’s successor as British No1 reflected.

“The atmosphere, the crowd – incredible. And then watching Andy throw his hat to the ground and look up to the stands was so special.”

Today Norrie attempts to emulate Murray by neutralising the awesome Serb machine in what will be his first Grand Slam semi-final.

Easier said than done, of course, but if the carrot for victory was not big enough, then unseeded, mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios awaits in the final following Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament due to an abdominal tear. It will be Kyrgios’ first such event. It’s not often a non-seed awaits in such a showpiece occasion.

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We were expecting to have two absolute crackers to put before Centre Court and perhaps most would have anticipated Nadal and Djokovic to progress to Sunday to continue their battle for the right to call themselves the GOAT.

But imagine a final between the half-Scots Norrie and the half-firework Kyrgios. That wouldn’t be bad, either.

Tomorrow marks only the second encounter between Djokovic and Norrie.

For the latter it wasn’t a performance and result to remember – a 6-2, 6-1 defeat in the ATP Finals last November in Turin – but, hopefully, it was instructive.

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Before that previous match Norrie admitted that a strategy was virtually useless. He said: “Novak has such a complete game, he’s probably the best mover of Tour, his backhand is insane and you can’t get the ball past him. He’s a nightmare

to play!”

Norrie was making his debut in the end-of-season tournament, admittedly after having been promoted from reserve, but 2021 had been his breakthrough season having captured a first tour-level title and maiden Masters 1000 crown. “I’m going to see if I belong and can compete with a guy like that,”

he added.

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The match was a dead rubber and Djokovic, who’d already qualified for the next stage, admitted this could have been a cause for complacency. But can you imagine the 20-Slam champ ever easing off, even at home in a race for the breakfast cereal or to get to the

bathroom first?

Okay, there are probably multifarious cludgies chez Djokovic but the point is made.

“I tried to be professional and give of my best and I played really well,” he said afterwards. “It was the first time we played each other and I took the time away from Cameron.”

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That’s an ominous-sounding phrase, isn’t it? So how does Norrie attempt to claw the time back from his formidable, gilded opponent?

Norrie was pleased with his staying power against David Goffin in his quarter-final on Tuesday, even if he wasn’t at his absolute best in that five-setter, and agrees this will be important again today.

“I tried to make the rallies as long as long and as physical as I could [in that match] and I think I’m going to have to do the same against Novak,” he said.

"I’ll have to play my game and execute to the highest of my ability. It’s obviously going to be a tough, tough challenge but I think I’m ready

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for it.”

So are his parents, David and Helen, who have travelled from New Zealand to support their boy, his stunning charge to the semis having required them to move hotels and make way for the booked-in Denmark women’s football team who are competing in the Euros.

A 23,000-mile round trip is what they have to do to catch up with son Cam and, before a reunion in Rome last year. they hadn’t seen him for two years.

“That was rough,” admitted Glasgow-born David, “and pretty emotional when we met up again.”

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Mum and dad can hardly wait for today: Centre Court against one of the all-time greats. “It should be a wonderful occasion,” added David. “The previous match was hard to beat because of how it kept changing. The crowd were unbelievable and I think many more people know Cam now. He’s pretty much been flying under the radar even though he’s been winning tournaments but now the public seem to be embracing him. That atmosphere with royalty present [the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made a dash from another court for the climax] was just fantastic.”

Norrie’s road to the biggest match of his life has been long and winding. He was born in South Africa but has no memories of the country having left as a toddler.

“It was getting a little bit too dangerous,” he said. “We got burgled a few times and my parents wanted to live somewhere they didn’t have to worry. New Zealand is probably one of the safer places so it was a good decision.”

Then came his move as a teenage prospect to Britain, then the US to play college tennis, and now Putney which isn’t quite Monte Carlo where a number of the top stars are based but, as Norrie puts it, he’s striving to “belong”.

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Kyrgios, while insisting he has plenty in the game who back him, is an outlier. He doesn’t always respect the rules and has the fines to prove it. Norrie is quite the opposite. A huge opportunity awaits him.

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