Norrie heats up center court but the fast start fails to deliver a fairy tale finale | Wimbledon 2022
Jthere was a tacit acknowledgment on center court on Friday that we might need to pace ourselves. It’s 10 years since Andy Murray was the last Briton to reach a men’s semi-final, but everyone remembers how exhausting it can be. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity; it’s not the successes, it’s the hopes.
The sun was setting over the middle sections of center court, where the roof’s shadow can’t reach, turning the court’s prized seats into a pointillist painting of panama hats, an animated gif of fluttering fans. When Cameron Norrie won the game’s first point – and then the second – there were oohs of anticipation rather than cheers. The crowd seemed to know, instinctively, that they had to conserve their energy on the hottest day of the tournament.
The local hero gave them little chance. Conserving energy is not the Norrie way. Not anymore. Since the pandemic, when he was locked down in New Zealand with his parents, the 26-year-old has made it his mission to improve his fitness and wear down every ball. That was definitely the game plan here against Novak Djokovic, and it paid instant dividends.
After a series of languid volleys played in slow motion, Norrie suddenly broke in the opener. It was as unexpected as his entire run at this stage of the competition, and no one was quite ready to accept that it was real. Maybe it was the heat playing tricks after all.
There had been few takers for the refund offered here after Rafael Nadal’s semi-final was canceled on Thursday night, although it should be noted that the window to request your refund was from 10 p.m. to midnight, you had to so be careful. Any refunded tickets were quickly resold, and there was also plenty of business on The Hill, whose yellowing grass – distinctly stunted against the lush green hues of the rest of the compound – had disappeared under pike blankets picnics and long floral dresses.
So, was the day light on entertainment? Maybe. The double ladies, written in last minute support on Center, had succeeded in a little over an hour. And it featured a disappointing lack of Nick Kyrgios – although the Australian’s absence gave a certain Liza-Minnelli feel for just one night when he appeared on Sunday.
Norrie v Djokovic was never going to provide explosive animosity on the front. Djokovic is known to be a gentleman. Norrie comes across as extremely balanced, perhaps a product of his global upbringing – born in South Africa, raised in New Zealand, educated in the United States and trained in Britain. Sue Barker dubbed him “a charming young man,” and she has a nose for such things.
The last time the two met, the British No.1 was beaten 6-2, 6-1 and left the court like a man who has just hit a sandbag in the solar plexus. There was a lot more sparkle and combat to his game here. In game three, Norrie ran from the left back corner of the pitch to the right net to lift a drop from Djokovic over his opponent’s head. Djokovic saved him with a lob between his legs, and Norrie still managed to chase him to the baseline.
For a while they danced cheek to cheek. Djokovic spanked forehand, Norrie spanked back. Djokovic cut shrewdly, Norrie did the same. When Djokovic hit long and Norrie got another break, the crowd was ready this time, right on their feet. And it was all bad for Djokovic, who just couldn’t find distance on the baseline. Even the string of the net refused to bend to his famous will, the ball bouncing with a mighty kick only to land, almost impossible, on his side of the net.
But two breaks and just one set was as good as it gets for the Briton. From the moment Djokovic came out in the second with his cap on, he showed instant composure. He sent Norrie ever further down the court – sometimes to the detriment of his own balance (at one point Djokovic did the splits and ended up planting his face) – and the pressure was said, Norrie losing his first breaking point to a horrible hook. the frame of his racquet. Since then, Djokovic has always been in charge.
The two loudest cheers of the match came for Norrie who took serve – first at 1-2 in the third, then at 2-3 in the fourth, after a game in which he saved four balls from station wagon, including three out of two. The crowd knew there was no fairy tale ending on the horizon, but that didn’t mean they wanted the story to end right away.