The last few days could hardly have gone better for Cameron Norrie. The 22-year-old Briton, who started playing regularly on the main tour less than a year ago, earned direct entry into the main draw of both the French Open and Wimbledon, reached his first tour semi-final in Lyon and learned that he has broken into the world’s top 100.
“It feels great,” Norrie said after arriving here for the French Open, which started on Sunday. “It was actually nice to get into Wimbledon on my own ranking, hopefully give another player a chance to get a wild card – and you don’t really owe anyone any favours.
“I’ve got so many great tournaments lined up, so I’m really, really looking forward to it. I’m just trying to stay healthy and embrace every moment.”
Norrie, who was born in South Africa to parents from Scotland and Wales but spent most of his childhood in New Zealand, completed three years of a sociology degree at Texas Christian University before deciding to go full-time on the tour last summer. When he started out at the Surbiton Challenger in June he was ranked No 230 in the world.
His first year, during which he reached the second round at the US Open after coming through qualifying, was promising enough and his career has taken off in 2018. In February he enjoyed a stunning Davis Cup debut on clay in Marbella when he beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who was then the world No 23, in March he qualified for both Indian Wells and Miami, and four weeks ago he joined forces with Kyle Edmund to win the doubles title in Estoril.
In Lyon last week Norrie claimed his biggest scalp yet when he beat John Isner, the world No 10, before losing to Gilles Simon in the semi-finals. Having been on the brink of the world’s top 100 for several weeks, he is expected to move up to No 85 on Monday, when he will also play his first match at the French Open against another tournament debutant, Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk, who reached the final in Geneva last week.
Despite minimal experience on clay, Norrie has quickly taken to the surface. “I’ve gone in with quite low expectations and just tried to tactically use my forehand,” he said.
“I managed to practise a little bit with Kyle before this whole clay season. I think he is one of the best players in the world on clay. Seeing his level, he’s helped me a lot. I’m pretty good endurance-wise. On clay the points are longer and it’s more physical. My game suits it well and I can only keep improving.”
He added: “Kyle’s ball-striking is unbelievable. When you are playing against Kyle, you can never really relax. He’s on it. He’s a good role model. He’s very, very professional. He’s helped me in terms of some advice before Davis Cup. He went through the same thing, making his debut.”
Norrie and Edmund joined forces in the doubles in Estoril, where they beat Lleyton Hewitt and Alex de Minaur en route to the first tour title for either of them.
“Both me and Kyle were pretty relaxed,” Norrie said. “We obviously didn’t care too much about the result. We just wanted to spend time on clay. We both returned really well. We played with no pressure. And not everyone can say they’ve had a win over Hewitt.
“I think we played well together and I would love to play with him in the future. I actually asked him to play here ,but he’s not playing any of the Grand Slams doubles.”
Norrie said the turning point for him on clay had been the Davis Cup tie in Marbella, when he beat Bautista Agut and also played four hard sets against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
“I think I was shocked and both my coaches were shocked at how well I performed on the occasion and on the clay courts,” Norrie said. “No one really knew who I was before that. I hadn’t done anything on clay. Profile-wise, it was great for me to get out there.”
Having originally intended to play in Challenger hard-court tournaments in Asia in the spring, Norrie opted instead for the European clay-court season.
“I wanted to think long-term and keep improving and put myself against the best players in the world,” he said.
“I managed to have such a great week last week. Beating Isner was huge for me. I don’t really play that well against big servers. It was good for me to stay focused throughout that match.
“It’s not a big shock to me. I’ve felt that I’m playing well. I was destined to have a good week at some point. It was nice to string some wins together and feel confidence coming into the French Open.”
He added: “I’m actually a pretty decent runner. I’m pretty good with my endurance. I think it also helps being a little bit younger and being used to playing five-set matches. I think I’m fresher than everyone else, mentally and physically.”
Is he even thinking that clay might eventually be his best surface? “It could be, but I don’t think I’ve spent enough time on it to really feel that movement-wise it’s going to be best for me,” he said. “I’m very very comfortable on a hard court and my backhand is a lot more effective on a hard court.”
Norrie has never played Gojowczyk but knows what to expect. “He hits the ball pretty flat,” Norrie said. “I think it’s going to be a battle. These five-set matches can go anywhere.
“It’s not really about the tennis so much, it’s just whoever is the better competitor, whoever is tougher mentally to get through it. I’m really looking forward to it, feeling confident, feeling great, just ready to out-tough this guy.”
Norrie’s parents have travelled here from New Zealand to watch him. “My dad especially is a big tennis supporter,” he said. “He loves all the results. It’s great to have their support and to hang out with them a little bit off the court. It’s just kind of easier to switch off from the tennis.”