Cameron Norrie becomes first Briton to win 'fifth slam' at Indian Wells

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Cameron Norrie kisses the winner's trophy - AFP
Cameron Norrie kisses the winner's trophy - AFP

After the Fairytale of New York, here was tennis’s answer to Operation Desert Storm. Cameron Norrie delivered a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 comeback victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili on Sunday night in the Indian Wells final. His triumph felt all the more special because this tournament, which is informally known as “the fifth slam”, had never fallen into the hands of a Brit before.

When Norrie, Dan Evans, Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu had assembled in the Californian desert a fortnight ago, few people were talking about him. Raducanu was all over the BNP Paribas Open’s advertising campaigns, following her US Open triumph, while Murray continued to earn admiration – as well as the odd brickbat – for his courageous attempts to turn back time.

But it was Norrie who set about this event with the same uncomplaining, unstinting effort he brings to every part of his life. He was prepared to go the long way around, to put balls back in court without looking for the glamour shot. In the end, he simply wore everyone down on these ultra-slow courts – even Basilashvili, the only man on the tour who averages over 80mph off both his forehand and backhand swings.

In an unexpected echo of the quirky story about Murray’s lost tennis shoes and wedding ring – which had emerged into the public domain via an Instagram SOS ten days ago – Norrie turned out to have suffered a similar setback on the morning of this final. It could genuinely have set him off his game, he admitted last night, if he hadn’t spoken firmly to himself in the early stages of the match.

“Every day I left my shoes on top of the locker,” said Norrie. “I think someone from the cleaners or something came through last night and they threw the three pairs of shoes that I had away.

“I don't know what the people have against the Brits with stealing the shoes, but I didn't manage to get them back. Just had to go out there with a fresh pair of shoes. Yeah, it was just difficult. Luckily I didn't have a wedding ring attached, so that was a bonus for me.”

Cameron Norrie, of Britain, returns to Nikoloz Basilashvili, of Georgia, in the singles final - AP
Cameron Norrie, of Britain, returns to Nikoloz Basilashvili, of Georgia, in the singles final - AP

“Ideally I like to play with shoes that I've been using for maybe five or six hits,” Norrie added. “They feel a bit heavy in general if they're a bit newer. A couple times I was just thinking about it, [which was] probably not the best thing. At one point I said, ‘All right, these are the shoes I got, I'm just going to focus on what I can control right now.’ I wore them in a little bit, came good in the end.”

And so the British tennis boom continues. It wasn’t just Raducanu’s shock triumph in New York, if you remember. We also saw a pair of titles for Joe Salisbury, who is surely the most in-form doubles specialist in the world, as well a calendar grand slam for the wheelchair doubles duo of Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid.

Don’t expect the BBC to throw another “Homecoming Party” for Norrie, given that this is “only” an ATP Tour event. But the prestige of Indian Wells remains enormous, and so does the winner’s cheque of $1.2m, which equates to £880,000.

A single rally changed the momentum of this contest, and it came at the conclusion of the second set. In the early stages, Norrie had been a little short of his usual poise. A tally of ten unforced errors in the first set was profligate, by his miserly standards. But he is extremely match-tight after 46 previous wins on the tour this season, and he found a way to turn things around.

With the score standing at 3-6, 5-4, and Basilashvili serving, Norrie abandoned his usual line and length. He threw a neat drop-shot into the mix, then a beautifully calibrated lob, and finally a sharp volley into the open court. A huge “Come on!” showed that he was beginning to feel inspired.

Cameron Norrie shakes hands with Nikoloz Basilashvili after defeating him in the singles final - FR171591 AP
Cameron Norrie shakes hands with Nikoloz Basilashvili after defeating him in the singles final - FR171591 AP

Norrie now entered lockdown mode. He didn’t miss another groundstroke until the fourth game of the deciding set. He loves to wrap his last opponents up in a web of defensive guile, leaving them as husks of their former selves. Basilashvili had come in as a lion but he went out as a lamb, needlessly spraying forehands in all directions as he totted up no fewer than 44 unforced errors.

Afterwards, Norrie admitted that “If you had told me I would have won before the tournament started, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

He also received an unusual commendation from Mike Cation, a well-travelled American tennis commentator who also works at a variety tournaments, many far less visible than this one.

Cation has known Norrie since he was a student at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth more than four years ago.

As Cation told listeners to Indian Wells’s dedicated local radio station: “He [Norrie] has maintained kindness, he has maintained empathy and he is humble. We shared a car ride between tournaments, he is still the same kid he was.”

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