British No 1 Cameron Norrie has opened up about his ill-tempered meeting with Novak Djokovic in Rome a fortnight ago, describing the Serbian’s late arrival on court as something “I’ve never seen from any player.”
At their fourth-round meeting in Rome on May 16, Djokovic opted for extra time on the physio’s bench after tweaking something in practice, and thus arrived more than 10 minutes after the scheduled 11am start.
To frustrate Norrie further, Djokovic never apologised for the delay. Telegraph Sport understands that Djokovic received a fine for his tardiness, and that Norrie was furious at the time about what he perceived as a lack of respect.
This fed into an edgy encounter which saw Norrie strike Djokovic on the back of the ankle with a full-blooded overhead smash. After the match – which Norrie lost by a 6-3, 6-4 scoreline – Djokovic complained about his opponent’s behaviour, saying: “He’s allowed to take a medical timeout.”
He’s allowed to hit a player. He’s allowed to say ‘C’mon’ in the face more or less every single point from basically the first game. [But] those are the things that, we players know in the locker room, it’s not fair play.”
But Norrie defended himself this week in Paris, and stressed that “regardless if it’s a tennis match or not, you turn up on time for whatever it is. “He wanted some more time on the physio bed and the match was scheduled for 11am. And we walked out maybe 11, 12, 13 [minutes late], I don’t think he saw any problem with that,” Norrie said.
“He never said anything to me. And he never apologised. I asked [the officials]: ‘Was that ok to do that?’ They said: ‘Yeah, it is within the rules. After 15 minutes he gets defaulted.’ I said: ‘Okay.’ And I continued warming up. I’ve never seen that before but I think it’s within the rules from what they said.”
One of the more easy-going characters in the locker-room, Norrie still tends to bridle if he feels disrespected. He has sometimes complained about receiving second-rate court assignments, for example.
As it happens, Norrie was then involved in another disagreement on Monday at Roland Garros. Early in his five-set win over Benoit Paire, he was docked a point for hindrance. This penalty is usually reserved for players who shout “Come on!” in the middle of a rally, although the microphones on Court Suzanne Lenglen only picked up a slightly extended grunt. Later, Norrie told reporters that “for him [the chair umpire] to get involved there was absurd.”
‘I’m just really pumped to win every point’
To return to the Roman row, Norrie said that he hadn’t known where Djokovic was standing (in the middle of the court, back turned) when he sent down the offending smash. As for his post-rally celebrations, which Djokovic had complained about being “in the face”, he seemed genuinely bemused.
“In all sports, I love seeing players compete and really get up for the matches and really wanting to win,” said Norrie. “I’m competing as hard as I can. I’m not trying to distract the other guy. I’m really just pumped to win every point I can. This is the only time that anyone’s had an issue with it.
“I didn’t think I was in his face at all,” Norrie added. “I think if anyone knows me, I’m pretty vocal in some matches. It was a regular tennis match for me. I was feeling my hip a little bit and I took the medical timeout. It is within the rules. And if he had to see the physio for 10 minutes and it helped him, I think it’s within the rules. I didn’t know the rules, but I do now. It’s ok. But I’m usually a pretty punctual guy. I can’t really relate to it too much.”
Having yet again outperformed his compatriots to become the last Briton standing at a slam, Norrie will continue his French Open campaign on Wednesday against Frenchman Lucas Pouille.
This is another interesting draw, as Pouille has been one of the human-interest stories of this tournament. A former top-10 player, he underwent elbow surgery in 2020 and then spiralled into depression and alcoholism. Now restored to better health and trying to rebuild his career, Pouille became the lowest-ranked player [at No 675] to win a match at Roland Garros in a decade when he defeated Jurij Rodionov on Sunday.