Beating the world’s number three Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon has the toughest tasks in tennis. He has lost just 10 times at the All England Club, compared to 87 wins – the second most of all time.
He also has a 27-game winning streak here, dating back to his retirement from injury in 2017. The last person to actually beat him at Wimbledon was Sam Querrey the previous year.
So does Cameron Norrie have another chance? Despite Djokovic’s many talents, there are some reasons to be optimistic about the British number 1 making it to the Wimbledon final.
All evidence points to Djokovic dominating Friday’s semi-finalsand Norrie doesn’t possess Querrey’s service bot tendencies that overwhelmed him six years ago.
But some would argue that Norrie’s game is like Djokovic’s greatest ever rival, Rafael Nadalwho has beaten him 29 times in 59 encounters.
Norrie is of course also a leftist and that brings complications for Djokovic. His top-spin forehand, while not as powerful as Nadal’s, is no different from the Spaniard’s. There’s also his never-say-die attitude.
He has a flat backhand like Nadal, but uses a more unusual strike—a straight-arm bunt—which can put opponents in tricky positions. “That’s probably one of the keys, that it’s so different from everyone’s backhand,” said Norrie’s coach, Facundo Lugones. “It also comes from the deuce side as a left-hander – a lot of players can hit it like that, but most of them are right.
“When you have that shot to the forehand you can rush them, keep the ball really low and hard, it’s really uncomfortable for most players because they’re not used to that. It’s quite unique.”
If he can channel all of these things, Nadal’s record shows that the way he plays can disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm and ability to dominate.
Norrie’s personal lockdown bootcamp, when he ran 10km every day for the two months he spent with his parents in Auckland, helped him set a personal best of under 37 minutes.
It has been cited as a major factor in its breakthrough in the past two years. Against Goffin in the quarter-finals, he proved that being fitness mad pays off, grinding his way out of the points and outdoing the Belgian in the long rallies. “I spoke to my coach before the game and said let’s get to two hours into the game – and then the game starts,” Norrie said after his comeback win.
Lugones believes Norrie could outrun anyone on the field because of his dedication to fitness training. “I don’t even know how many other players do, but it’s hard to top how many hours Cam does,” he says, adding that Norrie can operate in the ‘red zone’ — at 90 to 100 percent of one’s estimated maximum heart rate — for six to seven minutes at a time.
†[He does] a couple of really intense conditioning sessions on the field where he stays in that red zone where the heart rate is just insane,” says his long-serving coach. “He stays in that area for a long time. He is still able to perform and manages to play tennis at a decent level when in that state. That’s why he actually looked more comfortable in the fifth set than at the start of the match.”
On Tuesday, it was the crowd that got Norrie through as he trailed two sets to one and was close to a disappointing exit. It felt like an arrival of sorts, the moment when Norrie finally took center stage after two years as British number 1.
The No1 Court crowd carried him over the line, and against Djokovic, that partisan atmosphere is likely to only intensify.
Despite being a champion here six times, Djokovic has never matched the support of Nadal and Roger Federer. He’s used to being booed against those champions, so if he goes to Center Court against the lone Brit left in the draw at Wimbledon, he might be forced into the pantomime villain role again.
While he’s done this well in the past, Norrie has also found new ways to win these two weeks while playing the home hero. Responding to that will be the key.
Djokovic is the all-time favorite to beat Norrie and win the title, especially given Nadal’s precarious injury situation. Goffin laughed almost derisively when asked if he thought Norrie had a chance of beating Djokovic in the semi-finals.
“You know the answer, no?” he said with a grin. “If he might be playing the tennis of his life and Novak isn’t feeling well, we’ll never know. But Novak is Novak. He plays even better when the crowd is against him. Novak is just an alien, and to be an alien to beat, I don’t know how.”
Norrie has only played against Djokovic once before, in last year’s tour final, where he lost 6-2 6-1.
But maintaining underdog status could lessen the pressure Norrie is experiencing at Wimbledon. Unlike all previous rounds, when Norrie was the favourite, there are few hopes for a win here. It could be essential for him to break free and play his best tennis.