Cameron Norrie: The making of Britain’s Wimbledon quarter-finalist… from a sawn-off squash racket to 10k Covid runs
TA staff still talk of the thin, slightly spotty 16-year-old who first walked through the doors of the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton after an 11,000-mile trip to relocate from New Zealand.
Somewhat uncertain of what pathway to take, a decade on and five miles down the road, it has brought Cameron Norrie to within touching distance of a first Grand Slam semi-final.
From starting playing with a sawn-off squash racket to using the Covid lockdown to work on his fitness with daily 10 kilometre runs for two months, it is, says former British No1 Greg Rusedski, “an amazing story”.
Rusedski recalls the Norrie of 10 years ago having switched allegiance from New Zealand before relocating to Texas Christian University to study sociology rather than turn professional.
He said: “I remember seeing him at the LTA when he was 17 and he wasn’t sure what direction to go in. Going to university in the US was the best thing that ever happened to him. It allowed him to grow up and meet his coach. It was there he became really passionate about the sport and became the ultimate professional.”
Facundo Lugones, better known as Facu, was only two years Norrie’s senior and in his final year at university when the Briton arrived. They have been inseparable ever since, with Lugones picking up the ATP Coach of the Year award last season for his work with the British No1.
They are part of a close-knit team along with physiotherapist Julian Romero, absent from Wimbledon for the birth of his child.
Leon Smith, who first brought Norrie into the Davis Cup fold in 2017 as a hitting partner, said: “There would have been a lot of people in Cam’s ear before saying he should switch from his friend but he’s showed unbelievable loyalty. And Facu’s a very bright guy, super intelligent, while Cam’s such a good leader, something not everyone sees.”
Within that group, Norrie sometimes refers to himself as the CEO of Norrie Capital and is clearly seeing the dividends of that partnership and loyalty now.
Even while in the US he kept close ties with the LTA, with coach James Trotman acting as the conduit between the player and the organisation. The pair still occasionally work together despite Trotman’s main job being to coach Jack Draper.
On returning to the UK after leaving university, his first breakout moment was making his Davis Cup debut in 2018, coming from two sets down on clay to stun Roberto Bautista Agut. More remarkably, it was Norrie’s first match on the surface in five years.
But such results and the four title wins, including two this season in Delray Beach and Lyon, have not got the recognition in the UK that they deserve.
Rusedski said: “I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good a player he is. The problem is he’s following in Andy Murray’s footsteps, who’s won Wimbledon on two occasions. But he’s already done something that Andy, myself and Tim Henman never did which was win Indian Wells.”
That title last year remains the biggest of his career and, in the eyes of his Davis Cup team-mate Joe Salisbury, the seminal moment.
“That really changed things,” said Salisbury. “Before that, he’d not beaten the big guys or won a big tournament. Since then the belief’s really been there. But to get to the level it’s not been a sudden shift. He’s slowly worked his way up and it’s a good lesson for any tennis player, extracting everything from himself to get where he is.”
Players and coaches talk of his tireless work rate. He is one of the fittest players on tour and, as Rusedski puts it, “can run all day”, which might be required in today’s quarter-final against David Goffin.
As well as his strength and fitness, he has worked hard on his serve, the pace of which he has upped by about 5mph, and his forehand. Salisbury argues he now has the game for all surfaces.
“His backhand’s flat, his forehand’s whippy but he now hits throughout it a lot more so it’s become a real weapon,” said the former Australian Open doubles winner.
There are no shortage of those within British tennis with a vested interest in him making it to the last four of Wimbledon. Asked if he can do it, Smith said simply: “I bloody hope so.”