Indian Wells 2021: Cam Norrie’s dream run continues with victory over Dimitrov
Briton takes another step nearer Turin; faces Fritz or Basilashvili for biggest career title
So much about this year’s BNP Paribas Open has been unusual.
It was being held two and a half years after the last edition: the coronavirus pandemic saw to that, and to the continuing restrictions on fan and media attendance.
It was being held in autumn instead of spring: So rather than forming the first half of the March Sunshine Double, it came at the end of a long and gruelling season.
Some of the sport’s biggest names and former champions were missing from the draws: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, defending champion Dominic Thiem, Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka, Sofia Kenin, and both Williams sisters… that represents a lot of star power.
And by the semi-finals, there was not a top-10 player left standing in either draw.
But the results on the men’s side brought surprise after surprise, such that all four semi-finalists were ranked outside the top 25—a first in the 280 Masters tournaments held since the start of the series in 1990.
And all four players were into their first Indian Wells semi-final for the first time since 1999—and three of them had never made a Masters semi anywhere before.
Among the four was a Briton who was not only creating Masters milestones but personal milestones. He had never reached a Masters quarter-final before, was now enjoying a year in which he won his first title in Los Cabos and reached the finals of four more tournaments.
He overtook Dan Evans to become the highest ranked Briton, and was on the cusp of breaking the top 20—and that from 74 at the start of 2021.
That was not all: because of his consistency through this season, he was edging closer to the end-of-season finale, the ATP Finals. With Rafael Nadal out of contention for the rest of the year, Norrie had to target the top nine in the Race—around 11 for a reserve spot—and he was already at 12. One more win and he would rise another place. He had already beaten some formidable opposition, for Robert Bautista Agut and Diego Schwartzman can run most players ragged, but they could not beat Norrie.
However, next up was a man of unquestioned talent, fitness and flair: Grigor Dimitrov. The hugely popular Bulgarian with the single-handed tennis and all-court variety to reach No3 in the world and win two Masters titles—including the ATP Finals in 2017—may have dropped to 28 in the ranks after a succession of minor injuries, a Covid infection, and a wavering confidence. However, there had been no doubt in Indian Wells that he was back to his best. He beat No16 seed Reilly Opelka, top seed Daniil Medvedev, and No8 seed Hubert Hurkacz, the latter two in gutsy fight-backs from a set down.
The last was his 100th Masters match-win, a tribute to the 30-year-old’s long-time presence in the upper ranks of tennis.
His only previous meeting with Norrie was earlier this year, in the other half of the Sunshine Double, the Miami Masters, a win for Norrie, but Dimitrov was a different play six months on.
Both great movers, both fast, both liking to turn defence into attack with big forehands and deft short plays, it pitched the left-handed Briton against the right-handed one-hander. The Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal rivalry has exposed that kind of match-up through their long rivalry, so could Norrie target his forehand angle-making ability to the Bulgarian’s backhand wing?
Early on, it looked as though he could do that very effectively, and in the process, deny Dimitrov the advantage of his own cross-court slice to Norrie’s big forehand.
Dimitrov opened with a double fault, but both men then settled into some long baseline exchanges. But Norrie was quickly finding the lines and acute angles, and it earned an early break against the Bulgarian. Not content with that, he served big for an easy hold, and he continued to pummel his returns to great effect for a second break, and a hold, 4-0.
Norrie looked calm, focused, and full of running. Indeed it looked at this stage as though the Briton was playing a practice match, and Dimitrov needed to knuckle down, eliminate the errors, break this rhythm: easier said than done against such accurate and weighty ground strokes.
But finally he did just that, breaking out the serve and volley, and holding for 4-1. Norrie suddenly made a couple of errors, and Dimitrov slotted some down-the-line winners to get a love break, to raucous cheering from the fans. Yet he did not stick with that change of tactics, and Norrie hit back to break again: 5-2. His serving did the business, a hold for 6-2.
The second set began with a long battle to on the Dimitrov serve, but Norrie finally converted his third break chance and held for 2-0.
Dimitrov was finding it hard to get forward, and his slice was not yielding the control he needed in rallies. It was vital that he find a way to break the Norrie rhythm, but time was running out in a match played at terrific pace.
A 33-shot rally did show a change of tactic from Dimitrov—he sliced every backhand to finally draw an error from Norrie, and another brought up a break chance for the Bulgarian. But twice he made errors, and the Briton consolidated a 3-1 lead.
Dimitrov held easily for the first time for 3-4 with his first drop-shot winner of the match. He then held for 4-5 with some of his best shot-making of the match, sealed with a running forehand winner from outside the court.
But it was Norrie who stepped up to serve for the match, and he did it with no fuss, 6-4, in under an hour and a half.
Norrie is just the fourth Briton to make the final at this prestigious tournament—none has won it—and rises one place closer to Turin as a result. No wonder he told Martina Navratilova after the match: “The biggest win of my career for sure.”
He will next play another man ranked lower than himself, either world No39 Taylor Fritz, the unexpected home player to make it through, or No36 Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Fritz pulled back from 0-3 in the third set to beat No4 Alexander Zverev, having also beaten Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner. Still only 23-years-old, and working back from knee surgery, the young American has not won a title since Eastbourne 2019.
Basilashvili upset No3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, also in three sets, and like Fritz has a big-hitting game. He also claimed two titles this year amid some rather less impressive results.
Norrie has played both men this year, beating the Georgian in Rotterdam, and Fritz in Los Cabos, but he has also lost to the American in Miami. In short, whoever comes through, it promises to be an intriguing, close final.
NB Norrie will face Georgian Basilashvili, who beat Fritz 7-6(5), 6-3, to reach his first Masters final.
Women’s final: Victoria Azarenka vs Paula Badosa 9pm in GB
Men’s final: Norrie vs Basilashvili midnight in GB
Race to Turin [plus scheduled tournaments in addition to Paris Masters]
1. Novak Djokovic 8,370
2. Daniil Medvedev 6,470
3. Stefanos Tsitsipas 5,650 [Vienna 500]
4. Alexander Zverev 5,095 [Vienna 500]
5. Andrey Rublev 4,165 [Moscow 250, St Petersburg 250]
6. Matteo Berrettini 4,000 [Vienna 500]
7. Casper Ruud 3,015 [Vienna 500]
[Rafael Nadal not playing]
8. Hubert Hurkacz 2,955 [Vienna 500]
9. Jannik Sinner 2,595 [Antwerp 250, Vienna 500]
10. Cameron Norrie 2,440 [Vienna 500]
11. Felix Auger-Aliassime 2,330 [Vienna 500]
12. Aslan Karatsev 2,030 [Moscow 250, St Petersburg 250]
13. Pablo Carreno Busta 1,925 [Vienna 500]
14. Denis Shapovalov 1,835 [St Petersburg 250]
15. Diego Schwartzman 1,705 [Antwerp 250, Vienna 500]
16. Nikoloz Basilashvili, 1,645 [1,885 with SF win] [Vienna 500]
17. Roberto Bautista Agut 1,630 [Antwerp 250, St Petersburg 250]