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Cameron Norrie: How the new British number one made his rapid rise up the rankings

Written by 
Published in Tennis
Monday, 18 October 2021 10:18

Cameron Norrie only turned professional four years ago, but can now call himself the British number one, a member of the world's top 16 and a Masters Series champion.

With a three-set victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, Norrie became the first-ever British champion at Indian Wells.

The 26-year-old has risen from 74 in the rankings at the start of the year by recording 47 wins, winning two titles, and reaching four other finals.

With a strong performance in Paris next month, in the final Masters event of 2021, Norrie could still qualify for the ATP Finals, involving the best eight players of the year.

His story started in Johannesburg, and has ended up in London via Auckland and Texas Christian University - where he laid the foundations for a rapid rise up the rankings.

A US college education

Microbiologists David and Helen Norrie becomes parents to Cameron in Johannesburg 26 years ago. The security situation in South Africa encouraged a move to Auckland, from where Norrie represented New Zealand in a successful junior career.

But with a Welsh mother and a Scottish father, he was always destined to represent Great Britain despite the strong hint of a Kiwi accent. He switched nationalities formally at the age of 18, having returned to the UK, and then made the inspired decision to accept a tennis scholarship from Texas Christian University.

"This is where I can go and work hard," he said to himself on arrival.

"The weather is going to be good. I had a good feel about the place. I had a wonderful team there.

"I think college tennis is a great decision, especially coming from where I was - top 10 in juniors - it definitely gave me some more time to mature and really get stuck in and enjoy my time there, get an education as well.

"Everything is organised for you. Your friends are there. You get to hang out with them on the weekends. I was able to not really think about the tour and the scarring of losing a lot of matches in Futures [events]. I thought it was really a great decision for me."

Norrie topped the individual NCAA standings - the tennis rankings for students based in North America - during his time in Forth Worth. He left to turn professional with a year of his sociology degree to complete, but has since resumed his studies online.

Meeting coach 'Facu'

Probably the most important friendship Norrie struck up in Texas was with his coach Facundo Lugones.

They were team-mates on the Horned Frogs, the university's tennis team, in the Argentine's final year. He became a volunteer coach after finishing his studies and when Norrie decided to turn pro, Lugones was asked to accompany him on tour.

"I think it's been obviously great to have someone that knew me in college, and knew me off the court, and who I respected as one of my team-mates," Norrie said.

"We never really got sick of each other at all, so that's definitely a bonus. He's so passionate about tennis. He's given 120% every day. He takes care of all the little details, everything, so he's a phenomenal coach.

"He's always willing to learn and listen to others. It's cool, because every time I do something for the first time, he's doing it as well."

Lugones agrees.

"We are really close, we get along really well," he said of the new British number one, whom he affectionately calls 'el chico', which means 'small boy' in Spanish.

"We also give each other space, and the last two years he's been travelling with his girlfriend so he spends a lot more time with her and less time with me.

"If there are a couple of days he doesn't want to have dinner with me, that's completely fine, and the same goes with me."

Why the sudden improvement?

Confidence, experience, impressive fitness, an improved serve and more weight on his ground strokes have all contributed to Norrie's transformation into a top-20 player.

He thinks he was too passive earlier in his career: a legacy of the college circuit, where he was good enough to win by just keeping the ball in court.

"He's very good at learning the lessons," Lugones added.

"I would say in the past 18 months, he took more ownership of his career. He started being really, really professional in everything and making tennis his only thing. I think he's one of those guys that's going to look back and not have any regret for not doing things the right way."

Norrie also works very hard on his fitness, but is no doubt grateful to the genes of his mother Helen, who once ran a marathon in just over three hours.

"In terms of endurance and going the long hours and the long distance, I think he has to be one of the best," Lugones said.

"He has that very naturally: from a very young age, he used to run a lot. He always liked the long distance running - sometimes, on his day off, he will run a 10k like it's nothing.

"We do work a lot on his running, but mainly on his strength and his movement on court, more than his endurance. He kind of has that naturally."

What does the future hold?

A player in the world's top 16 does not have to face a higher-ranked opponent until at least the fourth round of a Grand Slam. When Norrie reached the third round of each of the first three Slams of this year, he had the misfortune to run into Rafael Nadal in Melbourne and Paris, and to Roger Federer on Wimbledon's Centre Court.

Norrie is also now a genuine contender to make the eight-man field for the end of season ATP Finals in Turin next month, and has entered consecutive tournaments in Vienna, Paris and Stockholm in an attempt to qualify.

He has also committed to representing Great Britain at the Davis Cup Finals in late November.

These are opportunities no-one would want to pass up, but the new season is fast approaching.

Finding time to rest, recover and then do it all over again often gets harder with success. But it is a nice problem to have to grapple with.

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