At the beginning of the year, it would be fair to say that British tennis was not in the best of shape. The three highest ranked male players, Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie, and Kyle Edmund were not competing for – let alone winning – major titles.
Andy Murray, Britain’s talisman over the last decade, was struggling to even return to the tennis court after years of injuries. Joanna Konta, Britain’s highest ranked female player at the time, was suffering from a persistent knee injury. Emma Radacanu was still revising for her a-levels.
Fast forward a year and it is difficult to believe that British players have won both a Grand Slam and a Masters 1000 tournament this season.
The achievements of Norrie and Radacanu really have turned 2021 from a potential annus horribilis to an annus mirabilis in British tennis history.
Cameron Norrie’s Indian Wells title is a phenomenal achievement. The twenty-six-year-old became the first British player ever to win the prestigious tournament (even Murray has never won Indian Wells).
Seeded twenty-first, Norrie battled his way through gruelling three set matches in the opening rounds against the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut and Tommy Paul. Using his looping, spinning forehand and flat backhand to great effect, he then flattened Diego Schwartzman 6-0 6-2 and Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 6-4 to reach the final.
In the final, Norrie played with his trademark relentless consistency as he came from a set and a break down to beat the Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Although it was a shock that Norrie won Indian Wells, he has been steadily building towards this kind of result throughout the season. His incredible consistency is evident in his forty-seven match wins (which is three more than Novak Djokovic) and his six ATP finals.
What is even more impressive, however, is that he started the year ranked outside the world’s top seventy. Now, he is at a career-high ranking of sixteen and the British number one.
Norrie’s story is certainly unique. He was born in Johannesburg to a Welsh mother and a Scottish father. Following a burglary incident, his family moved to Auckland, where Norrie had a successful junior career.
After returning to live in London for three years, Norrie accepted a scholarship from the Texan Christian University in the United States. Following an extremely successful season (at one point he was the top-ranked male college player), Norrie turned professional at the age of twenty-two.
Although this might seem rather old given that often players turn professional when they are still in their teens, those who come through the US college tennis system usually turn professional slightly older.
This can be a sensible route: college tennis offers both an opportunity for young players to develop without the pressures of life on the professional tour and to gain further qualifications if a career in tennis does not work out.
That never looked likely for Norrie, however, whose first season as a professional included a win against the world number twenty-three Bautista Agut in the Davis Cup.
Norrie has come a long way since his college days. Now a Masters 1000 champion, his future is even brighter.
Importantly, Norrie also has sky-high ambitions. Repeatedly, he has stated that his aim is to become the world number one.
While that landmark remains in the distant horizon, Norrie could still make a last-minute bid to qualify for the ATP finals. If he does qualify, that would certainly be another step towards achieving his ambitions.
Image: Carine06 via Creative Commons