Cameron Norrie had every reason to be filled with frustration as his battle with a great British player seemed to be falling away. For all of Andy Murray’s quality in the opening set of their match at the Western & Southern Open, Norrie had made too many unforced errors and given away too much for free – and he knew it. But one of the fundamental qualities that has driven Norrie towards the top of his game is his steadfast composure.
His head did not drop, his shoulders did not slouch and he emerged from his bathroom break after the first set still positively searching for a solution. He eventually found it. After three tough, physical sets that left Murray cramping badly by his chair at the end of the match, Norrie reached the third round by outlasting Murray 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to secure his first win against the former world No 1.
Despite years of training together on the courts of the National Tennis Centre in which both players gained a granular understanding of the other’s game, Norrie and Murray had faced each other only once in an official match before, in Beijing, which Murray won in three tight sets. But back then Norrie was ranked 69th, merely a solid top-100 player. He is a different player today.
They arrived on Centre Court on Wednesday morning and, predictably, tough, attritional rallies followed. Murray was extremely sharp from the beginning, dictating from inside the baseline, moving forward to finish points off at the net and he gave away minimal unforced errors. The constant pressure he inflicted on Norrie eventually told and, at 4-3, he snatched the decisive break with a supreme, angled backhand cross-court passing winner.
But Norrie carried on as he always does, maintaining his composure and consistency. After serving well and navigating four consecutive holds, Norrie stepped inside the baseline, searching for forehands in the big moments and unleashing. In the big moments, he served well, ending the second set with an ace.
Throughout the final set, Murray generated ample opportunities to snatch an important victory, particularly in a tight, attritional game at 3-3 in which he produced three break points. But with each error on those decisive points, Norrie further locked down his game, forcing Murray to hit through him as he refused to bail out of the long rallies.
As those physical exchanges endured, Norrie’s resolve gradually broke Murray down physically. Murray began to cramp and he eventually served a double-fault on break point. As Norrie swept up the final games and secured victory, Murray’s cramping continued after the handshake and he was in visible pain as a trainer treated him on court.
Murray had arrived in Cincinnati struggling. He had compiled a record of just two wins and three defeats in North America, with first-round losses in Washington and Montreal that were tough to swallow. His performance was an improvement on the past weeks and fighting until the end with a highly ranked player fresh from a Wimbledon semi-final is a positive performance.
But he leaves with lingering questions over his conditioning. This summer, Murray has suffered from cramp in Newport, Washington and now both matches this week. He described cramping as a significant concern but he does not know why it has arisen.
“The consistency of it for me is a big concern,” he said. “It’s not something that I have really experienced. I have experienced cramping but not consistently like over a number of tournaments. Big concern for me, because it’s not easy to play, you know, when it gets bad like it was at the end. I feel like it had an impact on the end of the match.”
After another showing of his consistency and strength, a 39th victory of the season for Norrie has given him a third-round match against the promising 19-year-old American wildcard Ben Shelton, who defeated fifth seed Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3.
Norrie ended his day playing more than two hours in doubles alongside Alex de Minaur in their 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 defeat to Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies. Even after a tough three-set grind, there were many more miles left in his legs.