Cameron Norrie may be having the season of his life but he is remarkably and refreshingly unimpressed by his own achievements.
Already, he has caught the tennis headlines this year: first in bouncing back from two sets down to defeat Roberto Bautista Agut – ranked 91 places above him – on his Davis Cup debut, and then defeating world No10 John Isner at May’s Lyon Open. Tellingly, both results came on an unfamiliar surface, clay.
But on the eve of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s, which gets under way with him facing three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in the opening round on Monday, he said: “I haven’t done anything in tennis yet. I’ve got to 79 in the world but I’ve not gone deep in the Slams so I have to stay humble and grounded. I’m only just getting started.”
The determination in his sentiments are outweighed by the Kiwi accent, which make him sound laidback to the point of horizontal.
But that belies the fact he has long and meticulously planned his path to the top in an upbringing first in South Africa where he was born to a Scottish father, David, and Welsh mother, Helen, before the family relocated to New Zealand where his parents work as microbiologists.
It is a journey that, aged 15, brought him to the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton and that, at 18, took him to study in Texas.
Aged 22, the sociology graduate, who lives in London, is just a season into the professional ranks and has already surpassed Andy Murray as British No2, admittedly aided by nearly a year of inactivity by the former world No1.
For him, university was his saviour. Had he not taken that pathway, he said, “I don’t think I would have made it as a professional tennis player otherwise. There would have been a lot of mental scarring from being in the Futures tournaments.”
Instead, rather than obsessing about results and tournament wins, he used university time to improve every facet of his game.
“It was also a chance to socialise,” he said, “meet some good people, but just to get better and stronger. I always knew I’d turn pro afterwards, but going there made me a more balanced person.
“It made me realise there’s more to life than just tennis, and that helps a lot. When I was younger, I thought otherwise. I did everything to play tennis.”
That obsessiveness was almost to his detriment when he arrived in England as a 15-year-old to pursue his ambitions at the LTA, an opportunity that simply wasn’t available back in Auckland where his parents still live.
By his admission, he was homesick and then struggled with the sheer volume of tennis he was able to play and the intensity with which he approached it.
“I learned a lot about myself,” he admitted. “I needed to relax a little bit, to take a step back and work out what I needed to focus on.”
Norrie relishes the big occasion – the Davis Cup and Isner successes are testament to that fact, the former the biggest individual match of his career to date.
“That one match made me schedule things differently because it gave me so much more confidence on clay,” he said. “That Davis Cup experience was unbelievable, I almost couldn’t describe it to you. It’s unreal to play for your country, and I’d not had much experience of that or the surface. That was pretty sick in itself.”
Few stages come bigger for a British tennis player than Queen’s, where he is one of the wildcards when the event gets under way on Monday among star names such as Novak Djokovic and Murray, and Wimbledon next month, both of which he has limited experience.
“My results have been decent but grass is so different,” he added. “But I want to play well at my home tournaments with my family watching.”
As for what’s possible in the world rankings, he said: “I’m not thinking about rankings too much. I just realise that playing tennis for a living is pretty rare. I want to stay grateful for that, I’m not focusing on rankings.”
But in the same breath, he added: “I’d love to win a tournament, anyone would do but Queen’s would be a great start!”
Cameron Norrie will take part in the Fever-Tree Championships at The Queen’s Club, starting on Monday. Click here for the last remaining tickets.