Embrace it or get eaten alive – Cameron Norrie eager to enjoy life in limelight

Embrace it or get eaten alive – Cameron Norrie eager to enjoy life in limelight

A coffee run with Andy Murray helped Cameron Norrie embrace the expectations and responsibilities that come with being the country’s leading tennis player.

“At Davis Cup in Glasgow last year I was walking with Andy to get coffee and there were 30 or 40 people stopping Andy every day for photos and he was so patient and took the time for everyone,” Norrie tells the PA news agency.

“Seeing him doing that, I was like, ‘Wow’. He’s on another level of being famous than me. I thought I have to do the same because it was unbelievable.”

Norrie remains in Murray’s shadow in terms of public profile despite having been Britain’s leading man since October 2021 but he thrust himself firmly into the spotlight by reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals last summer.

It was the 27-year-old’s first time beyond the third round at a grand slam and, coming at Wimbledon, that swiftly translated to much wider recognition for a player who had hitherto been distinctly under the radar.

“As the tournament went on people more and more started recognising me,” he recalls.

“I was staying at my flat in Putney. I would go into the coffee shop next door every day and they had no idea I was a tennis player. By midway through they were like, ‘Oh my God, we thought you were just some random club player.’

“And obviously walking around, people asking for photos more and more. It wasn’t crazy because there’s a lot more famous people in London than me but it was cool.

Cameron Norrie celebrates his dramatic win over David Goffin
Cameron Norrie celebrates his dramatic win over David Goffin (John Walton/PA)

“I’m always going to take the time to take photos with people and ask them if they’re into tennis. I really like it if it’s a young kid because I was one of those kids who was always asking for photos and sweatbands. So I’m really pumped to hopefully see if I can make a positive influence on them.”

The draw opened up for Norrie early on and he took full advantage, although the run was certainly not without its challenges.

He had to come from two-sets-to-one down to beat Jaume Munar in the second round and then David Goffin in the quarter-finals, with straight-sets wins over Americans Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul in between.

“The match with Tommy Paul was just flawless,” he says. “We both played such a high level. That was maybe my best match of the year and it was just a perfect day.

“The match with Goffin was just special, there were a lot of emotions after it. Prince William was watching. It was such a crazy match, being down most of the time. I almost didn’t know what to say at the end, what to do. It was a bit too much for me.

“It was an amazing time, having my friends and family watching and having this deep run, it was so much fun.”

Norrie sparked hopes he could emulate Murray by reaching the final when he took the opening set against Novak Djokovic only for the top seed to hit back decisively and win in four sets.

The run showcased everything that has seen Norrie out-perform most people’s expectations – although not his own – by establishing himself in the world’s top 15.

He does not have a big weapon but instead grinds opponents down with his heavily spun forehand and compact, flat backhand, priding himself on a relentless appetite for hard work on and off the court.

The gruelling five-set battles where physical and mental prowess become the key factors are the ones where Norrie feels the most comfortable.

“Once I get my teeth on a player, I’m pretty tough to shake off,” he says with a grin.

Norrie’s low-key, laid-back nature was encapsulated by him shunning tournament transport to cycle to Wimbledon last year from his flat in Putney.

This year, having joined many of the top players by moving to Monte Carlo – “Good guys to practice with, the weather’s good and obviously with the tax as well,” he explains – he is staying even closer to the All England Club.

He will have no need during the fortnight, therefore, for his new Lexus RZ 450e, with Norrie recently announced as an ambassador for the luxury car brand.

Driving an electric car is one of the steps Norrie is taking to try to reduce his environmental impact.

“I’m trying my best and I’m doing little things I can,” says the world number 13, who is an eager support of the ATP’s Carbon Tracker app, which aims to inspire greener travel on the tour.

“Obviously as tennis players we’re travelling so much so it’s not ideal. I’m trying to take as many trains as I can. I’m riding my bike around a lot, filling up my drinks bottles. I know it doesn’t seem like a big thing but hopefully they add up in the long term.”

Helping limit Norrie’s travel is the fact his parents have moved from New Zealand, where the British number one grew up, to London.

Norrie is enjoying being able to spend more time as a family and especially to hang out with dogs Lulu and Peggy, who help him relax away from the court.

“It’s been really good,” he said. “When they were visiting I was thinking I needed to hang out with them as much as possible but now they’re close I can take my time and have barbecues and see my dogs and spend time with them without worrying that they’re going to be leaving soon.”

Norrie’s father David, a Glaswegian and one of his son’s biggest supporters, has been fully embracing the British grass-court summer.

“My dad is so pumped,” says Norrie. “He’s watching all the tennis. He’s been to (Wimbledon) qualifying, he went to Surbiton, he’s watching all the other British players. He’s in heaven. He knows how everyone’s doing.

“He’s joined a local club. Both my parents were good squash players so they don’t have traditional technique at the moment.

Cameron Norrie applauds after losing to Novak Djokovic
Cameron Norrie’s Wimbledon run ended against Novak Djokovic (John Walton/PA)

“My dad has a good slice backhand and decent kick serve but his forehand’s his weakness. If you’re playing him, you go into the forehand all day. I tried to give him some lessons but I can’t help the forehand.”

Norrie has been honing his own forehand on grass over the past weeks, reaching the quarter-finals at Queen’s Club, as he looks to hit peak form at Wimbledon following a broadly underwhelming couple of months on clay.

Whatever happens, the 27-year-old is determined to enjoy the pressure and expectation that come with his position.

“This is exactly where I want to be and I’m going to have to get used to it even more if I want to get better,” he says.

“If you’re going to be not embracing all of it, it’s going to come and eat you alive. All I can ask from myself is to do my best. I have to go out and enjoy the experience of playing at Wimbledon and playing in front of my home crowd because it only happens once a year.”