Shortly after the greatest triumph of his career, Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie reflected on the critical change that occurred midway through Monday’s final against Nikoloz Basilashvili.
The 25-year-old became the first English player and the lowest-ranked man since Ivan Ljubicic in 2010 to win the BNP Paribas Masters 1000 when successful 3-6 6-4 6-1 in a final lasting 1hr 49min.
Norrie, whose game matured during the four years where he attended Texas Christian University on a tennis scholarship, is renowned for the remarkable endurance he possesses.
The slow-paced hard courts at Indian Wells in 2021, where the grading of the courts ensured long, grinding rallies were a feature, played to the strength of the marathon man.
But against Basilashvili, a free-hitting Georgian who is capable of scintillating shotmaking, the points whipped by too quickly in the first set for Norrie to turn the match to his strength.
“It was quite windy and for a stage he hit so many winners, so it was tough for me to get any confidence on my rally balls,” Norrie said.
“The rallies were really short and he was just blasting winners. When I made a couple of those clutch shots in that 5-4 game in the second set, it gave me some confidence.
“I was able to find my feet again, start moving again and I made the rallies more physical, which I have been doing all tournament, and it worked to my favour.”
The 29th seed does not possess the same weapons as his junior contemporaries from across the Tasman Sea in Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. His strength is of a different, less flashy kind, but it is one that clearly holds him in excellent stead on the tour.
In an interview with English paper The Telegraph prior to Norrie’s semi-final success over Grigor Dimitrov, his coach Facundo Lagondes revealed Norrie’s physiological advantage.
He told reporters Norrie’s heart can sustain intense activity for periods that would kill the average human. It is an ingredient that was also a strength possessed by Swedish legend Bjorn Borg.
“They were monitoring Cam’s heart rate (during the Battle of the Brits) and I remember Matt Laurie (fitness coach of Andy Murray) told us that after one of his matches against Kyle Edmund, he was in the red zone for nearly eight straight minutes, which is almost impossible,” Lagondes said.
“A normal person would die after two minutes in the red zone, which is like 180 to 200 (beats per minute). Cam was running a lot with his mum (as a boy) back in Auckland. He is just an animal in that department. He can endure anything: long distance and long matches.”
Similarly to grand slams, the Masters tier events have largely been dominated by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for the best part of 15 years. But their dominance at this level, at least, is waning.
The final in California was the second Masters 1000 final this year between players ranked outside the top 25 after Hubert Hurkacz defeated Jannick Sinner in the Miami Open, which traditionally follows Indian Wells, in April.
“It is my biggest title. I can’t really describe it right now,” Norrie said.
“If you had told me I would have won the tournament before the tournament started, I would not have believed it. It is amazing. I am still taking all the emotions of the match in.”
With the big three absent for this special edition of Indian Wells delayed from March by Covid-19, a new champion was certain. That man is Norrie. He has crafted a career the hard way and looks poised to reap the dividends in coming years.
The new British No. 1 showed tremendous resolve early in the tournament and performed better by the match on the way to claiming his second title for the season.
Norrie needed three sets to defeat Tennys Sandgren, Roberto Bautista Agut and Tommy Paul to reach the quarterfinals, with his endurance clearly a factor in those triumphs.
He blitzed Diego Schwarztman and was too good for Dimitrov before the success over Basilashvili in what was Norrie’s sixth ATP Tour final in 2021.
The Georgian enjoyed a great tournament, which included wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov and Taylor Fritz in the semi-finals.
He overcame an early break against Norrie to claim the first set and was in pole position until the decisive break late in the second set, with the champion too strong in the decider.
Norrie’s win is a triumph for the Commonwealth. He was born in South Africa to Scottish and Welsh parents and raised in New Zealand _ he still carries the accent _ before switching his allegiance to England as a teenager in order to receive the funding necessary to travel.
After his success, he paid tribute to his team and partner before giving a shout out to his parents David and Helen, who still live in New Zealand.
Norrie moves to a career-high ranking of 16 and pockets A$1.63 million for his success. He has also moved to tenth spot in the Race to Turin, and with Rafael Nadal sidelined with a foot injury, Norrie is well-positioned to claim a spot in the eight-man ATP Tour Finals next month.
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