By Hannah Blackwell
Wales has a new tennis star – at a stretch.
Cameron Norrie may have been born in South Africa and grew up in New Zealand from the age of three, but his mother is Welsh and proud enough of the fact to have named Norrie’s sister Bronwen.
It’s a tenuous claim to suggest he’s Welsh, but the blood link is enough for success-starved fans of Welsh tennis – who have only had the Wimbledon mixed doubles exploits of Evan Hoyt to celebrate in recent years – to get excited.
Norrie grew up in Auckland but he capped a remarkable few weeks for British tennis by becoming the first player from this country – on the basis of his British parents – to win the prestigious BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The 26-year-old, who has a Scottish father, came from a set down to defeat Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili 3-6 6-4 6-1, netting himself one of the biggest titles on the ATP Tour and around £880,000 in prize money.
While not quite on a par with Emma Raducanu’s US Open triumph, Norrie’s success in the Californian desert has elevated him to a new high of 15th in the world rankings having started the year down at 71.
It was his second title in his sixth final of 2021, and a delighted Norrie said: “I still don’t really know what I’m experiencing.
“It was an amazing couple of weeks and I’m so happy with how I treated all the occasions, all the big moments, all the matches. I’m so pleased to win my biggest title.”
The new British number one is also firmly in contention to qualify for the season-ending ATP Finals – an incredible achievement given he did not make it past the third round at any of the grand slams.
The top eight players of the year will make up the field in Turin and Norrie now sits in 10th, 160 points behind Hubert Hurkacz, with Rafael Nadal certain to miss the tournament due to a foot injury.
Norrie pulled out of this week’s tournament in Antwerp but will play in Vienna, Paris and Stockholm over the next month.
— Cameron Norrie (@cam_norrie) October 18, 2021
He said: “It would be nice to make it but I’m going to keep going, keep taking care of what I can and handling what I can. We’ll see how it goes.
“I’m looking forward to the indoor season. I really like the courts. I’ve never really made a deep run in one of those tournaments, but I always play well. I always lose tight matches.
“Hopefully those can swing in my favour this year.”
Winning tight matches and coming through difficult situations has been one of the key reasons behind Norrie’s brilliant form this year, and the final against Basilashvili was no different.
The big-hitting Georgian came from 3-1 down to win the first set with a barrage of winners but Norrie reversed the pattern in the second and wore down his opponent in the decider.
I think it’s a little bit surprising,” the British star said of his success.
“Starting the tournament, you’re a little bit nervous, you’re not really sure, not used to the conditions. You’re not feeling good.
“I had a couple of tough matches early on, especially against (Roberto) Bautista (Agut). I think that was my toughest match. Physically that match was rough.
“I think it just shows if you stick around in these big events, obviously it was pretty miraculous that all the top guys lost, and when I looked at the four semi-finalists (thought), ‘Hmm, it’s a good opportunity here’. I didn’t really want to get too far ahead of myself.
“With my experience, being on the tour four years now, I was very calm in the bigger moments and I played unbelievably, my best tennis, against Diego (Schwartzman) and Grigor (Dimitrov) in the quarters and semis. Those were huge matches for me.”
Norrie revealed, meanwhile, that he had to play in new shoes after the three pairs he had been using were removed from the top of his locker overnight.
He saw the funny side after Andy Murray’s shoes with his wedding ring tied to the laces went missing earlier in the tournament, saying: “I don’t know what the people have against the Brits with stealing the shoes, but I didn’t manage to get them back.
“Luckily I didn’t have a wedding ring attached.”
Cameron Norrie has lived the week of his life
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) October 18, 2021
The title is also a feather in the cap for Norrie’s Argentinian coach Facundo Lugones. The pair have worked together since their time at Texas Christian University, where they were initially team-mates.
Lugones said: “I always thought he was unbelievably good. It’s just a matter of when things are going to click and if he can stick to the things that are working and stick to the process, just not giving up, not being let down by tough moments as we had in the past, some terrible losses, a lot of finals.
“It didn’t matter for him. He always had a bigger vision. He always woke up the next day and brought 120 per cent regardless of what happened the day before.
“When you have someone with that ability, I think there’s no limits.”