Cameron Norrie rises to Wimbledon occasion by overpowering Tommy Paul

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Over the delirious past 18 months in the life of Cameron Norrie, he had already achieved plenty. He has racked up ATP titles, lifting four trophies along with another five finals. Among his palmarès now is one of the biggest tournaments in the sport, Indian Wells. Two months ago he rose into the top 10. Still top 15 in the ATP race this year, he has not let up.

But during this period of growth and consolidation, there has been one glaring gap in Norrie’s résumé considering the heights he has reached. Until this week, his best grand slam results were a flurry of third-round finishes. He has had some tough draws, losses to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but there were also genuine disappointments. Last month, at the French Open, he thought his time had come for a deep run. It had not.

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So much of what Norrie has achieved has come in his own time and at his own pace, and this breakthrough has been no different. At the most ideal venue for his first big run, in front of a raucous No 1 Court crowd, the ninth seed reached a grand slam quarter-final for the first time by completely outplaying Tommy Paul 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.

“For me, it’s shocking I’ve made the quarters, first time,” Norrie said. “In front of my family, a lot of friends here from college. So special. A huge match today for both of us, just to play the way that I did is really good. To execute everything, I really enjoyed it.”

Across the net, Paul has his own connection to these courts. He is one of few players to count Tim Henman as one of his biggest idols, something that even few British players ever say. As he and his coach, Brad Stine, devised a plan for him to become a more attacking player, to incorporate net play far more into his game, the obvious reference point for a net player of modest height was Henman. He binge-watched footage of the former British No 1 and marvelled at what he achieved, becoming a fan for life.

Belgium’s David Goffin celebrates defeating Frances Tiafoe of the US.
Belgium’s David Goffin celebrates defeating Frances Tiafoe of the US. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

With his new loose, attacking style, 25-year-old Paul has thrived over the past 18 months, reaching his current ranking of 32, a career high. He is a talented player, a tough opponent and enjoyable to watch, but on Sunday afternoon he was completely outplayed as Norrie gave a thorough demonstration of the improvements that have marked him as a top-20 player.

Norrie came out nervelessly and he opened the match determined to remain proactive and in control. He smothered short balls, he defended resolutely then countered by threading slick passing shots and he used drop shots to bring Paul forward. Against an opponent in his first Wimbledon, still acclimatising to the big stage, he set the tone by immediately breaking serve and holding on to take the opening set.

Most importantly, though, for most of the match he struck his forehand as freely as he ever has done with so much on the line. Norrie’s forehand has often held him back; too lightweight, too safe. But as he fought through numerous tight deuce service games, he constantly backed himself to pierce Paul’s defences in the big points by unleashing his forehand down the line.

The fundamental qualities of Norrie’s game are his consistency and durability, and he takes great joy in his ability to grind down his opponents. When he needed to take a step back and return to basics, such as after his error-strewn service game while serving for the second set at 5-4, his consistency was always present. Paul struggled to hit through his defence and he eventually couldn’t escape the errors that piled up.

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Norrie is the fourth British player to reach the ATP top 10 – yet, for a nation that can often overhype its talent, his success has been received with minimal fanfare. Norrie had reason to be irritated when he started his campaign here on No 2 Court. But big results on the big stages, where everyone is watching, yield greater exposure. Norrie has shown what he is capable of around the world and he is now ensuring he will leave his mark in his own country.

Even with Nadal and Novak Djokovic still present, the men’s draw remains a world of opportunity this year. Norrie will next face the unseeded former top-10 player David Goffin, who edged past Frances Tiafoe in five sets. The winner of that is in the semi-finals.

As Norrie absorbed the long, deserved ovation that the Court One crowd reserved for the last British player left in either singles competition, he addressed the crowd with a mischievous smile: “I’m the last one left, so why not get behind me now even more?”