February 13, 2021
Rafael Nadal eventually overcame a sustained and spirited challenge from an improving British opponent.
His 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 victory over a battling outsider and resilient fellow-lefty was a faithful reflection of the way the match unfolded.
But the more we get to see Cameron Norrie, the more we think the Wimbledon 2021 crowds will take him to their hearts.
Ranked 69 and reaching his first middle weekend at the Australian Open, the 25-year-old is quickly growing in stature.
Norrie will certainly win admirers for his feisty first-set display, as he went toe to toe with one of the game’s all-time-greats.
In fact he clearly got under Nadal’s skin with his quick-fire serving just before he levelled at 4-4.
It seemed the Spaniard wasn’t ready to receive. But Norrie didn’t notice and went through his full routine anyway.
Nadal shot Norrie and an accusatory glance that bordered for a moment on genuine hostility.
And Rafa just seemed to swipe wildly at the final serve of the game as Cameron gained another foothold.
Some would argue that Nadal often takes so long to serve, unsettling opponents in the process, that he was fair game for an opponent taking the opposite approach.
At 5-5 the Brits were even dreaming of a first-set upset. It didn’t look impossible.
Norrie had even broken Nadal earlier in the set to lead at 3-2. He was gaining some success with his big looping forehand and flat-line, stiff-arm backhand.
Rafa was mishitting a few stokes he would normally play without thinking. But having been broken, Nadal broke straight back and ensured he never fell behind again.
The third set was a close-run thing too. At 5-5 and 30-30, Norrie was still very much in the match. So many players fall away and accept the inevitable as matches progress against the giants of our game. Not Cameron.
It was only Norrie’s failure to win regular points behind his second serve that proved his undoing. Something to work on. Room for improvement before Wimbledon 2021.
But he kept nagging away until the end, he never crumbled. And remember, Cameron only really decided to focus on tennis aged fifteen. He’ll carry on learning for a good while yet.
This Australian Open remains a huge tournament for Nadal, though. He faces a tough test against the unpredictable Fabio Fognini next.
Nadal said: ‘Fognini will be hungry to do well and come to the match with plenty of confidence. All the matches are tough and you are playing against the best players in the world so it’s normal you’re going to suffer.
‘I need to keep improving but I’m in the second week and that’s the main thing for me. I need to fix some unforced errors and hope to be ready for Monday.’
But Rafa is edging closer to sporting history. If his injured back can hold up, he could be there.
Novak Djokovic also has injury problems. Rafa could in theory take advantage to become the undisputed greatest of all time in terms of Grand Slam titles.
But he will have to play better than this against the likes of Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev.
True, Nadal romped away to victory against Norrie in the end.
If he doesn’t start better against more dangerous opponents, however, he will be chasing contests when it may already be too late.
Rafa knows it. And that’s for the near future. For now, we should all salute Cameron Norrie. He’s had a magnificent tournament. He started by beating British number one Dan Evans and went further than we could reasonably have expected him to go.
Another potential jewel has been added to the glittering crown that Wimbledon 2021 will surely be.
Will you be there to enjoy all the riches on offer?