Dan Evans has probably got the award for 'best British win of 2021' wrapped up already, having beaten world No 1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets at the Monte-Carlo Masters last month. But will Evans end up having the best season by a British men’s player? So far that honour probably belongs to Cameron Norrie.
The British No 2 has 18 wins to his name this season – tied for third among ATP players – and needs just three more to equal his highest-ever total for a year. He’s also made one final, one semi-final and two quarter-finals, picking up a few notable wins along the way.
In particular, he looks to have found his feet on clay. He beat top-25 players Karen Khachanov and David Goffin in Barcelona before reaching the final in Estoril. Arguably his best win of the last fortnight was against world No 22 Cristian Garin in the quarter-finals in Estoril. Garin is a clay-court specialist and a five-time champion on the surface, but Norrie showed his quality to prevail in three sets.
Murray set to practice with Djokovic in Rome ahead of latest comeback
His serve has been a big part of his success, with his first-serve win percentage up to 73 per cent from his previous average of 65 per cent on clay. His second serve percentage has also improved and his win-loss percentage of 0.531 is now his best on any surface.
It was clay where Norrie made his breakthrough in 2018 when he came from two sets down to shock Roberto Bautista Agut on his Davis Cup debut. Former Great Britain captain David Lloyd called it "one of the most impressive debuts of all time" – and it’s hard to argue given Norrie had hardly played on clay for several years before the tie. But his game is starting to suit the surface. He doesn’t have any huge weapons but physically he is strong and mentally he is prepared to wear down opponents.
"When I am real intense and moving well and comfortable under my feet I think it can be my best surface,” he said after his first-round win in Estoril.
"I am backing myself physically against the best in the world and when I am playing physical tennis and making the other guy suffer that’s when I am having success. I am not quite as talented as some of the other guys in terms of the skill level but I am improving every year and am pleased with where I am at."
In 2019, Norrie said he felt like he could "compete with the best guys in the world" after reaching the last 16 in Monte Carlo and this year he is aiming for some minor tweaks to improve.
Highlights: Evans causes huge shock with win over Djokovic in Monte Carlo
"I am hitting my forehand well, my backhand hard when I need to and am hitting my serve in the spots. I am competing well and making it tough for the opponent. But I can tidy up around the net a bit more and lock in my return on the first serve."
Norrie is still far from a clay-court specialist, but he looks very comfortable on the surface. His footwork is tidy and he is able to stick with opponents and also control points. He acknowledged after beating former US Open champion Marin Cilic in the Estoril semi-finals that he is pleased with the way things are going this year.
"I am playing good. I am competing really well and I am just really happy with myself. I am keeping a really consistent level, even on days when I am not quite feeling my best. I am still digging in there and making it physical and playing on my terms, being the one dictating points. I think that is the reason why I am having a bit of success. I just want to keep improving and keep getting better."
Norrie’s recent results have seen him move up to No 48 in the rankings, seven places behind his career high of 41, which he achieved in 2019. He’s also No 20 on the Race to Turin, which is based on results this year alone.
With a month left on clay, Norrie has the chance to move higher in the rankings and, if he gets a good draw at Roland-Garros, it would be a surprise if he didn’t improve on his best-showing of reaching the second round three years ago.
Zverev stuns Nadal to reach Madrid semi-finals
Nadal: Covid-19 pandemic made me question if I should keep playing