Cam Norrie: A Horned Frog Who'd Rather Be An Underdog
Cameron Norrie rallied to a five-set quarter-final victory against David Goffin at Wimbledon on Tuesday in a thrilling demonstration of why he is regarded as one of the mentally and physically toughest players on Tour. Yet the ninth seed’s will to win through to a maiden Grand Slam semi-final came as no surprise to David Roditi, the Briton’s former Head Coach at Texas Christian University.
“[I] just [remember] how competitive he was,” Roditi told ATPTour.com this week. “Brutally competitive. Sometimes in practice, we had some great players like [World No. 310] Alex Rybakov, almost at the same level. I think Cameron beat him 21 times in practice, in 21 sets.
“Even when Alex could use a little confidence, Cameron would just beat him. We were kind of looking at Cameron going, ‘Hey, he needs a little confidence, let him take a set in practice’. He wouldn’t, he was just ultra-competitive. He doesn’t show it through his emotions a lot, but he is super competitive, and it’s like he doesn’t care how a person feels, he is just going to beat you.”
Norrie competed for the Horned Frogs from 2015 to 2017. Despite the high level he regularly displayed on the court in Fort Worth, it was not all plain sailing for Norrie during his time at TCU. Roditi acknowledges that Norrie, like most 19-year-olds, had some growing to do when he arrived in the United States.
“He was still immature in some ways, he made some mistakes,” said Roditi. “But it was in an environment where we could work with him, he could learn from them, and we weren’t going to shame him or anything. It was just opportunities for him to learn. Obviously, there were some things on the court that he improved, but that was just part of the process, let’s say. Just that discipline, accountability, is what improved a lot.”
One story in particular demonstrates how Roditi nurtured the younger Norrie.
“I’m not a rules person,” said Roditi. “I don’t like setting a lot of rules because that just means more fighting, [but] we have a very simple rule with [our] uniform. You can wear any shirt that is grey, white, black or purple. He would wear this ugly shirt that had these long red sleeves. We’re walking and I’m like, ‘Cam, you know you can’t wear that.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I know.’
“We would walk all the way down to the courts, get to the courts and say, ‘Cam, you’ve got to go change.’ And he would walk all the way back, but he still did it like 10 or 15 times, and I think he was just testing us to see if we would one day just budge and let him wear this ugly red shirt. [It’s] just a dumb example, but I think he was just testing.”
TCU is still a big part of Norrie's life. His coach is Facundo Lugones, who was a senior at the university when he was a freshman. They have been a tandem since Norrie's early days as a professional. They have also returned to campus from time to time to visit their college family and train. Assistant coach Devin Bowen, who did most of the on-court work with Norrie when he was a Horned Frog, still assists the Briton.
On Friday, the four-time tour-level titlist will don all-whites when he takes on 20-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic on Centre Court for a spot in his first major final. Roditi believes taking on a six-time champion and one of the favourites for the title is a situation his former charge will relish.
“I think he’s a great underdog,” said Roditi. “This will be his first match [in the tournament] he plays truly as an underdog, and he loves being in that role. It’s deep in the tournament where he feels very comfortable, he’s won a lot, and the crowd. It was funny, you see his reactions at 4-3 in the fourth set [against Goffin], screaming and getting the crowd going.
“That was pretty cool. It was almost like a college tennis reaction. You don’t see that a lot in the pros. That was the best part about this. He didn’t play that well [against Goffin]. He looked like he was just managing himself the whole time. What a confidence booster for him, that he didn’t even play his best tennis and he’s in the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
“So, I think he’ll be a little more free, a little looser in this match with Djokovic.”