Roland Garros has traditionally been an unhappy hunting ground for British players, but Cameron Norrie heads to the French Open as one of the world’s most in-form players.
Norrie has reached two ATP Tour finals over the last month in Estoril and Lyon and claimed the best victory of his career over US Open champion Dominic Thiem in the second round in France.
His 23 tour-level match wins in 2021 – 12 of them on clay – mean he has already surpassed his best annual tally less than five months in and he heads into the French Open with confidence sky high.
Norrie told the PA news agency: “I think all the time on the match court is pretty invaluable. It’s tough to replicate that in the practices so it’s nice to get a lot of matches on the clay and to get a decent number of quality wins in there and to know I have the level.
“I feel prepared and ready to go. The body feels good. I’ve got a couple of blisters on my hand but that’s pretty normal with the amount of matches I’ve been playing. I just want to put the same level on the court that I have been over this last month.”
Norrie’s spectacular Davis Cup debut against Spain in 2018, when he came from two sets down to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, was all the more remarkable for the fact it was one of his first matches on clay.
Since then he has developed impressively on the surface and his relentless consistency and athleticism have made him a formidable foe.
“When I’m moving well and I can make the points physical and tough in the lungs a little bit, the rallies get longer and longer, I think it’s always in my favour,” he said.
“Clay could be my best surface but I think I’m doing a lot of other things well that can benefit me on other surfaces as well. I think I’m serving well and hitting the spots well in big moments.
“All those other things are allowing me to have my best chances on the clay. I think the biggest thing is I’m just enjoying the tennis and enjoying the matches and the battles I’ve been having.”
Norrie’s ranking of 45 is four below his career best, with the coronavirus-related changes still making it harder to move up, but a good marker of his form this year is that he stands 14th in the annual race, which only uses results from 2021.
“I’ll take it right now being top 15 in the race but it means nothing, I just want to keep building,” said the 25-year-old, who has been the last Briton standing at two of the last three grand slams.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do and I’ve got to still keep proving myself day in, day out and keep riding the camel – I like that metaphor.”
In the race, Norrie is two places above Dan Evans, who has also had a strong clay season, meaning there could well be a race for British number one later in the year – not that either man will be putting much store by that.
“I’m not too bothered about it,” said Norrie. “I’m happy to keep doing my thing and let those things take care of themselves. The goal is world number one, not British number one.”
Norrie is the first graduate from the Lawn Tennis Association’s Pro Scholarship Programme designed to support the best 16 to 24-year-olds having switched his allegiance from New Zealand, where he grew up, to Britain as a teenager.
He cites the years he spent in the US college system at Texas Christian University as key to shaping him as a person and a player, but he now calls London home.
The difficulties of international travel and living in strict bubbles at tournaments has restricted Norrie to only a few days in the UK this year and, even when he comes back for the grass-court season, he will mostly have to stay in hotels to meet the Government’s strict criteria.
He won his first match at Wimbledon in 2019 and, with grass tournaments returning this year for the first time since, he is hoping to show a home audience the big improvements he has made.
“I’m serving very well so I can hopefully use that to my advantage with the change of surface,” he said.
“It’s going to be pretty strange living so close to Queen’s and not being able to stay at home for that and for Wimbledon but I think the grass is going to be the last little bit where the bubbles are pretty strict.
“Hopefully they can get some decent capacity with the crowds and there will be some atmosphere. If there is, great, I can use that to my advantage and show the British public what I’m capable of and show them some of my level I’ve been playing this year.
“I’m just looking forward to having a British summer and hopefully people getting around the tennis and on the Pimm’s at Wimbledon.”