Estoril Open 2021: Briton Cam Norrie’s campaign for first singles title thwarted by Albert Ramos-Vinolas

The 33-year-old Spaniard was playing his 10th final, all on clay, and won his third career title

Cameron Norrie
Cameron Norrie (Photo: Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell)

One has only to look at the scalps that Briton Cameron Norrie has claimed this season to recognise his fine streak of form.

He started 2021 ranked 74, but as he headed into the last match of the week in Estoril, he was up to 50 and would edge still higher if he could get over the winner’s line for the first time in his career.

For Norrie, currently the second-ranked British man behind Dan Evans, who also won his first title at the start of 2021, had notched up 18 match-wins this season, tied third on the tour with Jannik Sinner.

Along the way, he had beaten Nikoloz Basilashvili, winner in Doha and Munich, Fabio Fognini, Grigor Dimitrov, Karen Khachanov and David Goffin—and that was before he beat the No2 seed in Estoril, Cristian Garin, and then No6 seed Marin Cilic to reach only his second ever final.

His 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over Garin in particular was some achievement: The Chilean was his fifth top-30 win in a gritty two and a half hours to reach his fourth quarter-final of the year.

But in his last Estoril match, he faced the man who had picked up the most clay-court wins this year. Albert Ramos-Vinolas, No46 in the world, had reached 15 wins on the surface. This was his 10th career final, and all the previous nine had also come on clay—one of them at the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2017. And the Spaniard had gone on to nab two titles.

Norrie was the first man to work break chances, three of them in the third game, and he converted the third, but Ramos-Vinolas upped the power from the back of the court to break straight back.

Norrie was up against it again in the sixth game, but finally held. The Spaniard was in control of many rallies, and swinging Norrie from side to side. It was already gruelling stuff between the two lefties, and the Briton managed to hustle through another break point to hold again, 4-4. Not content with that, he broke Ramos-Vinolas in the next game. He would serve for the set, and after 51 minutes, he sealed the opener, 6-4.

As a result, Norrie seemed to grow in confidence, and it was now the Briton who commanded the baseline. He broke for a 2-1 lead, only for the physio to be called by the Spaniard.

There was certainly no sign of a groin problem for Ramos-Vinolas through five break chances and 11 minutes in the next game, and Norrie would rue the chance to hold from 40-0 up. Instead, the Spaniard broke to level at 2-2.

Norrie had three chances to break, but could not take advantage, and serving at 3-4, it was instead the Briton who was broken, and Ramos-Vinolas held to level the match, 6-3.

The Spaniard had more treatment to his upper thigh, but would take the first break in the third game. Norrie, also seeking advice from the doctor, took some meds and promptly broke back: 2-2.

And so they edged to the business end of the match, with Norrie seemingly drawn into playing the Spaniard’s baseline game, with too little variety thrown in to break the rhythm. They headed to a deciding tie-break, and there, Norrie put the first forehand wide: a mini-break.

He compensated, though, and they changed ends at 3-3, with the wind gusting as the shadows stretched across the court. Norrie still played his opponent’s game, with each trying to outhit the other, and that played into the Spaniard’s hands. Ramos-Vinolas served at 6-3, and drew one last error to seal the title, 7-6(3), after two and three-quarter hours.

Norrie addressed some generous words to his opponent’s team, and added:

“It’s never easy losing, especially for my first title, but Albert played better than me in the end, and he deserved to win.

“My first title was three years ago here in the doubles. It’s a really nice place, right by the beach. It’s a pity we can’t enjoy it this year, but hopefully I’ll be back next year.”

At the start of Sunday in Estoril, there was the chance of a British double. Luke Bambridge and Dominic Inglot played Hugo Nys and Tim Puetz for the doubles title, but lost 7-5, 3-6, 10-3.

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