Against the 23-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut, a man already with the Auckland title to his name this year, and No13 in the world just months ago, Norrie had come back from two sets and a break down with an entertaining, bold brand of all-court tennis to beat the favourite in front of his home crowd after more than four hours.
That Norrie had never played a Davis Cup tie before, had never played a senior professional match on clay before, and more remarkably, had never played a four-setter let alone a five-setter before, made the result all the more impressive.
It also ensured that Great Britain remained in the hunt against one of the strongest teams in Davis Cup competition. For even without the injured Rafael Nadal, Spain fielded a team in which all five nominees were ranked in the top 40, and come the draw, they did not even think it necessary to put No10 Pablo Carreno Busta onto court for their singles ties. He would join Feliciano Lopez in doubles, leaving a quality man like David Ferrer on the bench.
The hard graft was left to Bautista Agut and to No21 Albert Ramos Vinolas, who reached the final of the Monte-Carlo Masters last year. Ramos Vinolas’s only title came on clay, too, as did his only Major quarter-final, the French Open in 2016.
All of which made Spain not just the favourite to win this tie but one of the favourites for the title. Already they had won the Davis Cup five times since 2000, and when it came to clay, had won 27 of their last 28 ties.
Great Britain was also at a disadvantage from injury. Andy Murray was back in the UK recuperating from hip surgery, while Kyle Edmund, who reached his first Major semi-final a week ago in Australia, also had a hip problem. It was, as a result, little wonder that Ramos Vinolas got the win over 24-year-old No165, Liam Broady—though it was far from easy.
As is so often the case in Davis Cup, the doubles rubber on middle Saturday would therefore give an important psychological as well as scoring edge to the winner in this evenly-balanced tie.
And although GB fielded a Grand Slam doubles champion in Jamie Murray, so did Spain. Veteran Lopez won the French Open in 2016, while his partner Carreno Busta also had doubles titles to his name. And they joined forces to become by far the superior pair in a straight-sets victory and with some blistering serving and net play.
So the pressure was really on Norrie to reproduce his Friday form as the first player to take to court in the Sunday conclusion.
And just as in his first rubber, Norrie was initially down against Ramos Vinolas courtesy of two breaks, but he fought back, fended off two set points at 2-5, and took the opening set to a tie-break. Once there, though, the Spaniard dug in to hold, 7-6(4), after well over an hour of play, for while Norrie had played more winners, Ramos Vinolas had been much tidier on the error count.
That changed in the second set, with Norrie making just four unforced errors, and going on the attack to convert both his break chances at the first attempt. He levelled the match, 6-2.
The Briton drew on deep levels of fitness and self-belief to twice pull back from a break down in the third set, and again it went to a tie-break. Now into its fourth hour, the match felt as though it might turn on this game—and it did. The errors again let Norrie down at the key moments, though there were some tense points on both sides, not helped by members of the crowd shouting out false line-calls.
In the event, then, the experienced Ramos Vinolas edged it, 7-6(4), in another hour-and-a-quarter set. Norrie’s heart continued to be willing but the physical exertions, and some clutch, resilient play from the Spaniard, now took their toll. The Spaniard increasingly looked the stronger and more assertive player after breaking at the start of the fourth set, and sealed the deal, 6-2.
So Spain advance to that quarter-finals, again at home, to Germany, who scored an impressive victory away to Australia. In Brisbane, Alexander Zverev bounced back from a disappointing Australian Open to win both his singles rubbers, including a significant victory over Nick Kyrgios in straight sets.
Great Britain now has to prepare for the play-offs in September in order to retain their World Group place, but by then, the nation’s two top players may be back on the selection bench, and who knows how far Norrie will have risen in the ranks along the way?
Certainly, he has thrown down a marker for the coming months, and his all-court leftie game may shine still more away from clay. Captain Leon Smith spoke for many in his praise for the young player:
“I can’t speak highly enough of what Cam’s done all weekend. I’m really proud of him. If he needs some sort of reference point in terms of how far he can go in his career, he certainly got it this week… The only way for him is up.”
Spain vs Germany
Italy vs France
Italy sealed a hard-fought win away over Japan, 3-1, with Fabio Fognini winning both his singles rubbers in five sets and four hours. Next up, a home tie versus France, who pulled out a 3-1 win over The Netherlands after Adrian Mannarino, who lost the first rubber, scored a five-set, four-hour-20-minute win in the fourth rubber.
Croatia vs Kazakhstan
Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic did not have to play either singles rubbers to seal Croatia’s victory: Borna Coric won both his singles matches, while Cilic and Ivan Dodig pulled back a two-sets deficit to win the doubles rubber. Kazakhstan took its tie against an under-power Switzerland, 3-0: the Swiss then won one of the remaining dead rubbers.
USA vs Belgium
Sam Querrey, John Isner, and the duo of Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson made it 3-0 in Serbia, and will next be at home to Belgium, who beat Hungary courtesy of two more singles wins by stalwart David Goffin.
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BIOGRAPHY: Eric Bailly