Cameron Norrie must build on his Davis Cup display to push up the rankings
The Davis Cup may be struggling for relevance in an increasingly packed tennis schedule, but the international team competition provided the feel-good story of the past week.
Britain’s Cameron Norrie, ranked No 114 in the world, was taking part in his first Davis Cup tie. He had never played a tour-level match on clay, let alone over five sets, and is only in his second season as a full-time professional. His opponent on Friday was the world No 23 Roberto Bautista Agut, a seven-time winner on the ATP Tour, as well as thousands of partisan Spanish supporters.
When Bautista Agut went two sets and a break up, it was all going to script. Then, as British No 1 Andy Murray commented after the match, “one of the most amazing wins/results/upsets” happened. Seemingly dead and buried, Norrie fought back, stunning his opponent to win in the most improbable of scenarios 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
The 22 year old from Scotland threatened to repeat his heroics on Sunday, but ultimately ran out of steam against the world No 21 Albert Ramos-Vinolas to go down in four sets.
The trip to Spain proved unsuccessful for Great Britain, who now face a play-off to retain their World Group status, although the performances of Norrie will live long in the memory and should provide a launchpad for a successful career.
A three-time winner on last year's Challenger Tour – the tour directly below the ATP Tour – Norrie’s next milestone is to break into the top 100. Yet he should be setting his sights even higher, with a place in the top 50 by the end of 2018 a realistic target.
A player of finesse over firepower, Norrie’s style is somewhat similar to Belgium’s world No 7 David Goffin – a player who guides the ball around the court and uses foot speed to open up angles before pulling the trigger. Norrie is solid on both wings, although he favours his backhand side. He has a capable serve but not one to strike fear into his opponents.
Norrie has proved he has the game, temperament and court intelligence to trade with the best players in the world on the biggest stages. Now it’s about how he can apply it consistently away from the raucous Davis Cup crowds and packed arenas, when he returns to playing in front of dozens instead of thousands on the outside courts of far-flung tournaments.
“Incredible experience this weekend in Spain,” Norrie wrote on Twitter. “Couldn’t be more proud of my team. Leaving this tie with a different perspective.”
If Norrie can apply that shift in perspective over the next few months then, as British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith said, “the only way is up for him”.
Norrie’s performances in Spain also provided more good news for British tennis authorities following the impressive breakthrough of Kyle Edmund at the Australian Open.
Having been carried for a generation on the shoulders of Murray – a three-time grand slam champion and double Olympic gold medalist – the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) were under pressure to bring more talent through.
Edmund, now up to No 26 in the world following his semi-final run in Melbourne, looks best placed to take over Murray's mantle. But in Norrie, British tennis just may have unearthed another player to feel optimistic about.