Wimbledon 2021: Bold Norrie beaten by Federer, but new Brit star Raducanu shines
Federer into record 69th fourth round at a Major; Raducanu youngest Brit woman to reach last 16 in Open era
The home nation had a bumper crop of Britons in the singles draws for the return to Wimbledon after two years away.
By the third round, there were still three men in the draw, and that was the most since 1999. Come middle Saturday, however, there was only one left with a chance, after the exit of Dan Evans and Andy Murray.
No29 seed Cameron Norrie would now have his chance to take one step further than he had ever been at a Major. With his run this week, he had reached the third round of all four Majors in a row, and he had looked impressive in beating the classy Lucas Pouille and then wild Alex Bolt—he dropped only six games to the Aussie.
Norrie came into his first seeding at Wimbledon in fine form, having reached the final at Queen’s. In fact, he had won a lot this season to reach his career-high rank of 34, including the finals in Lyon and Estoril. Super fit, and now super confident, he had more match-wins under his belt this season than most, now 31 of them.
It had taken Rafael Nadal to beat him in the last two, and he faced a similar reputation here—eight-time champion Roger Federer. Norrie, though, would take encouragement from the form that the Swiss brought with him this time.
The soon-to-be-40 year old had played only eight matches and won just five this season, and had not played at all last year after reaching the Australian Open semis. The reason: two lots of knee surgery, and a longer, slower rehabilitation than he had hoped for.
One win on the hard courts of Doha, none in Geneva, and three at Roland Garros—where he then pulled out to protect his hard-pressed body—paved the way to his declared target, the grass. But it was an inauspicious start in Halle, where the 10-time champion looked a shadow of his usual self in the latter stages of his second-round loss.
Come Wimbledon, the rust and lack of match-play showed in a tough opening test against a wily, unconventional Adrian Mannarino. Federer got away with it, and began to look more like his old self against the familiar Richard Gasquet. Norrie, though, posed a very different kind of problem: Left-handed power from the back of the court, resilient defence, and a real willingness to come forward. Against Pouille, Norrie won 22 from 31 net points.
Certainly Federer had noticed a significant improvement in Norrie since their only previous encounter, the non-tour Hopman Cup:
“I see good improvements from him. I remember when he came on tour, he was really steady off the baseline… But I feel like everything in his game has gotten a little bit better.”
The first set, though, went by in a flash, and with Federer on the front foot for most of it. Norrie saved immediate break points, but a Swiss forehand winner in the seventh did the damage, consolidated by a love hold. Federer served it out, 6-4, having dropped just three points on serve.
The Swiss had to save two break points at the start of the second set, then upped the tempo with a serve and volley and a forehand winner. He turned the tables, broke, and whipped through a hold with three aces, 3-1, and went on to serve it out to love, 6-4.
So far, so expected of the former champion, but he was having it all his own way, and Norrie’s serving and baseline punches drew more errors and applied more pressure in the third. The Briton was buoyed up by the crowd, all the more so when he saved two break points, and with that momentum he broke a nervy Federer to love for the set, 7-5.
Norrie was now looking the more confident man with more energy, and making precious few errors—four in that third set. The two exchanged breaks in the fourth, and Norrie saved another challenge to go 4-3. But Federer was about to surge again, attacked the net to smash, and even after falling, managed to break.
He would serve for it, and although Norrie went 30-15 up, Federer would not back off. He raced forward, got the win, 6-4.
The other side of the Swiss emerged, as it usually does in interviews, from the calm, controlled exterior, as he assured the crowd he had worked on his English after being caught out by a turn of phrase on Tuesday night:
“I played better than the first round, my English is better, things are going well for me!”
Then, when confronted with the news that he was into his 69th fourth round, he made a brief reference to his age:
“I’ve loved every minute and I hope there’s a bit more left in me. It’s a pleasure still playing right now. This one is extra special because it’s the last Slam before I hit the big 4-0.”
He left, as he usually does, to a standing ovation, but not before giving way to join the applause for Norrie. There is surely much more to come from the Briton. However, few players command the admiration of the Swiss: After the match, the central concourse filled with people wanting only to cheer him as he walked the bridge to his media responsibilities. It was a salutary reminder of the star appeal he brings to Wimbledon.
Perhaps the biggest British drama, however, was played out from a more unexpected direction in the women’s draw. There was huge disappointment for the only British seed, Johanna Konta, when a member of her team tested Covid positive.
There was plenty of interest among the wild cards, and Katie Boulter, making her return from a long absence with elbow injury, made it to the second round, and very nearly to the third, after putting up a great fight against one of the favourites for the title, No2 seed Aryna Sabalenka.
But in the event, only one British woman made it to the third round, the 18-year-old Emma Raducanu, ranked 338 and playing not just in her first Major but in only her second month on the main-tour.
Since making her ITF debut in 2018, she had played just 21 tournaments, and won three of them, but returned after a year and a half away following her A levels last month.
By all accounts, she is bright, hard-working student, but asked if she would prefer top results for those or a place in the fourth round—she chose the latter, and she would get her wish.
Thus far, she had not dropped a set, even in Round 2 against the former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova. And she was loving every minute:
“Just to be able to be at the championships, I feel like I’m on a holiday.”
She next played Sorana Cirstea, who had beaten Victoria Azarenka, one of five top-20 wins this year, and she had won the title in Istanbul and made the final in Strasbourg.
But Raducanu shrugged off an early break and began to fire her outstanding backhand to great effect, broke back, and held to love. Not content with that, she broke again to take a 5-3 lead, and then again for the set, 6-3.
She looked to have this sown up with a 3-0 lead in the second set, consolidated with a love hold. A couple of fine passes in the next game, and she had three more break points, but Cirstea held her off, and broke to level at 3-3.
Then a marathon 15-minute game of nine deuces and multiple break chances had Cirstea under all kinds of pressure, but the Romanian resisted against not just Raducanu but the entire Court 1 crowd.
They edged towards a tie-break, but the young Briton had other ideas. One match-point came and went, then another, but the third produced perhaps the rally of the match, with Raducanu’s incisive angles from the baseline finally drawing the last error for set and match, 7-5—and a place in the second week.
The ovation was one of the longest heard this week, the home fans recognising that here was a young star with whom they could celebrate their return to live tennis. She had Court 1 eating out of her hand with her interview, too. Asked what was the biggest thing to come out of reaching Week 2?
“Just to stay here another day and play in front of all of you!”
She then explained that her parents had questioned just how much match kit she had packed for her hotel bubble before the tournament. She beamed and said:
“I think I’m going to have to do some laundry!”
Raducanu was not the only teenager making an impression early on Saturday. Coco Gauff on Centre Court was also headed into Round 4 with a win over Kaja Juvan, 6-3, 6-3. She said:
“I’m super honoured that the tournament allows me to play on [Centre Court]. It’s not often a 17-year-old gets to play here!”
It is not often that Wimbledon gets the chance to see two such talented teenagers both reach the second week, either. Don’t be surprised if Raducanu’s next match is also Centre stage.