Cameron Norrie denied that a hectic schedule contributed to his third-round loss against Jiri Lehecka at the Australian Open.
The British number one, seeded 11th, was bidding to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time but from two-sets-to-one up he was beaten 6-7 (8) 6-3 3-6 6-1 6-4 by Lehecka, a 21-year-old Czech ranked 71.
With Norrie’s top-20 status comes various earning opportunities, and he played exhibitions during the off-season in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.
He then played three matches at the United Cup to begin the season, beating Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz, before reaching the final of the ATP event in his home city of Auckland.
The 27-year-old, who switched allegiance from New Zealand to Britain as a teenager, only arrived in Melbourne the day before his first-round match and admitted he struggled to find his rhythm but still believes his preparation was the right one.
“It’s the best preparation I’ve ever had to play matches,” said Norrie. “The best start to the year I’ve ever had. To play in the final in Auckland, and I came in here with a load of confidence, and I think it’s perfect to play matches before then.
“Maybe I just peaked a little bit too early in United Cup. But now I think I came in here and gave myself the best chance. I think I didn’t play a very good match, and I almost won the match in five sets.
“I don’t think I would change my decision even with the result today. With the way I played, I still could have won today regardless of if I played Auckland or not.
“Ultimately I want to be playing my best tennis in the big events, and I think I gave myself the best chance.”
Norrie beat Lehecka in Auckland last week having also previously defeated him in Davis Cup but he did not look comfortable from the start in breezy conditions.
Lehecka, who possesses a big serve and forehand and attacks the net well, had the better of the first set, forcing Norrie to save three break points, but could not convert a 6-4 lead in the tie-break.
Norrie showed his competitive desire to save three set points, the first with a fine pass down the line, but the 27-year-old was not playing well, missing time and again with his forehand, and Lehecka held onto an early break to claim the second set.
Norrie appeared to have found his range in the third, making only six unforced errors compared to 27 in the first two sets, but the momentum switched around again at the start of the fourth.
The 11th seed was in big trouble when he dropped serve again in the first game of the decider and called the trainer to have his left knee taped up.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2023
Norrie fought hard to try to find a way back after going a double break down but he was unable to conjure the same magic as Andy Murray and Lehecka served the match out to love for the biggest moment of his young career.
Norrie played down the knee issue, saying: “Obviously I’ve been playing a lot. We’ve been doing some stuff to try work on it, but I don’t think it’s anything significant.
“I just need to keep getting better and work on a few lapses in concentration and keep working as hard as I can. I feel like my level, my tennis is still on an upward trajectory. It was a great start to the year. I’m just disappointed with the result obviously today.”
Norrie will next play for Great Britain in the Davis Cup tie in Colombia in a fortnight.