Is Cam Norrie doing it right?

He’s suddenly become part of the British tennis consciousness. But it’s been a long time coming.

Cameron Norrie’s path as a junior was slightly muddled. He was born in South Africa to British parents, but initially represented New Zealand after his family moved out there. At the age of 16 he switched to Great Britain, taking up a spot at the National Tennis Centre in London.

From that point, there is a well-trodden path. LTA funding, reasonable success at junior level, a steady transition to the pro circuit, a solid top 100 ranking.

But Cam Norrie went off-script – he chose to go to America. To study.

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Texas Christian University: Not a bad place to call home. (Credit: Michael Barera)

He said he wanted a “more balanced lifestyle”, having his life revolve around tennis had made him fall out of love with the sport. And in America he would still play a lot, at a very good level, but he would have other things in his life, as he pursued a sociology degree.

It’s bold – to move outside your comfort zone, to alter your expectations by removing yourself from the warm embrace of the LTA and throwing yourself into the fiercely competitive American collegiate league. But it worked. Norrie quickly became the number one college player in the US. He got into the habit of winning.

And that’s why he didn’t have to wait long for his first ATP tour win. He turned pro in June 2017. Later that month, at the Eastbourne International, he beat world number 49 Horacio Zeballos. And it was only eight months later that he battled back from two sets down for his biggest win to date: a Davis Cup victory over world number 23 Roberto Bautista-Agut.

There have been many near misses for British players over the years. It may well be the same for Cam Norrie. But he’s built a life for himself outside of tennis. He can return to Texas Christian University, finish his degree, and get on with a ‘normal’ life if that’s what he wants to do. He’s taken the pressure off himself before he’s even got going.

It wouldn’t suit everyone, and there should never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to sport – but I admire Cam Norrie for doing it his own way. And if more British junior looked up and saw that there is a world outside tennis, I don’t think it would do us much harm.

 

 

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Nothing to see here, as Djokovic loses in Indian Wells

It just shouldn’t be surprising.

Only five weeks after Novak Djokovic had surgery on his elbow, he’s lost to world number 109 Taro Daniel.

It’s either testament to Djokovic’s quality, or a great insult to Daniel that this is any kind of surprise. Even prior to the surgery, Djokovic had played just five competitive matches in six months, having spent most of the back end of 2017 out of action.

And it’s often cited that the most important part of Djokovic’s game is his physicality. I would suggest it’s actually his belief in his physicality.

“It felt like the first match I ever played on tour,” he said after the defeat.

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I remember watching him in the days before his remarkable 2011 season. His defeat to Marat Safin at Wimbledon in 2008 – when he hit 10 double faults – in particular points to a mental fragility that is usually masked by supreme physical confidence.

To see him struggle against Daniel, in a three-set battle, isn’t a surprise, just a reassertion of the depth of quality in professional tennis. Daniel was in an excellent place to take advantage of a Djokovic who, in his own words, is starting from scratch.

When the Serb got things together in 2011, it was the start of one of the most remarkable runs in modern tennis; a 41-match winning streak and only one defeat to Nadal and Federer all year. The question is, at the age of 30, has he got the resolve to build that kind of killer confidence again?

I wholeheartedly believe he does – despite the fragility he has sometimes shown, he is one of the most incredible competitors the sport has seen. And his speciality; reinventing himself when times are tough. So this defeat at Indian Wells could help trigger a new incarnation for Nole.

Nick Kygrios is a victim of the media treadmill

The Aussie youngster has had a rough time of it. He has the exclusive title of being tennis’ one and only ‘bad boy’.

And some of the incidents he’s been involved with have been regrettable. Sledging Stan Wawrinka by claiming that countryman Thanasi Kokkanakis ‘slept with [his] girlfriend’ was up there. As was the behaviour – described as a ‘lack of best efforts’ – which resulted in a $16,500 fine from the Shanghai Masters.

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Tennis’ only bad boy spices things up. Image credit: Carine06.

But to claim that he’s already a wasted talent or a ‘disgrace’ to tennis (as he has been branded in much of the mainstream media) is a stretch.

I believe he is another victim of the need for news, the need to make something out of nothing.

Athletes find themselves in an unenviable position, where they must be entertaining, whilst being some kind of saint-like role model, before they’ve even stepped out onto the field of play.

Not many people could deny that Kyrgios is entertaining. So would they prefer him to blend into the bland obscurity of the vast majority of media savvy tennis stars? No. Because then they’d have nothing to write about.

But that’s not going to stop them feigning moral outrage at his antics.

The Big Four – architects of their own downfall?

The Big Four are not as dominant as they once were. For the first time since 1998, eight different men and women have won the respective Grand Slam singles titles. They muscled their way to the top – quite literally – and have shown little signs of relinquishing their dominance before this year.

So what’s gone wrong? Two have spent most of the injured or in surgery. The other is 33-years old and a father of four. And Djokovic, despite his supreme form at Wimbledon, has looked underwhelming ever since.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Roger Federer’s first Wimbledon win in 2003 marked a changing of the guard. From the wam-bam-thankyou-man of Sampras and Ivanisevic, to the more physical game brought about with slower courts and better rackets.

And of course 2005 marked Rafael Nadal’s explosion onto the Grand Slam scene. On clay at least, Federer had to work hard to compete over the course of brutally long matches. Those three or four years of dominance have taken their toll on a 28 year old Nadal. He set the bar and is now struggling to reach it again.

Murray and Djokovic were next; both struggled with fitness in the early stage of their careers and embarked on intensive strength and conditioning regimes. Murray is now once again back on the road to recovery after a punishing season.

As each one has battled for supremacy, it is only natural that they go one step further than their predecessors. But in bringing about the new, increasingly physical, game they have paved the way for their own downfall. As they get older and the challengers get younger, it is only going to get harder for them to keep up.

British Tennis still needs more drive

We’re lucky to have new facilities – now we need the drive to get people playing on them

Over 17 million people watched Andy Murray break the 77 year Wimbledon deadlock in 2013. The BBC subsequently provided its most expansive coverage to date in 2014, with over 150 hours of TV time dedicated to the Championships.

And yet this gives the Lawn Tennis Association even more reason to be scratching their heads. Why is it that only 406,000 of those that watched Murray romp to victory pick up a racket and play tennis at least once a week?

Perhaps more importantly, why is this figure in decline?

Interest in the sport has hit a peak and we need to act fast to harness the power of youngsters’ imaginations. We have the interest; we now need to facilitate potential player’s desires because they won’t wait around. Football, cricket, golf, even cycling are providing a greater impetus for participation.

Although far from an expert, I did manage to establish a club and coaching programme on public courts in 2010. The support of the local authority and public figures was very encouraging. The only thing that was lacking was a cohesive regional plan.

Every tennis club, school, sports facility could benefit from collaboration. We – as a small coaching group – could work with the school to provide tennis as an alternative to the traditional football and cricket combination which still dominates most PE teacher’s curriculums.

From there, we could feed into the local tennis centre, with a larger coaching infrastructure and – if you’re lucky – indoor courts. We’ve had several children go onto play at the local centre, but it was on their own initiative.

Owen Gibson wrote for The Guardian that ‘it won’t be changing one thing that transforms tennis in this country but marginal gains across a multitude of areas’. This seems to me to hit the nail on the head.

Pushing players in a consistent direction, making coaching accessible with lower prices and making tennis ‘ordinary’ is all part of the solution. We need to give our juniors tennis on a plate for them to choose us over football.

Is Federer finished?

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon, 2009 - image credit, Just Jared

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon, 2009 – Image credit, Just Jared

Reacting in last Sunday's final to pegging Djokovic level - Image credit, Billie Weiss

Reacting in last Sunday’s final to pegging Djokovic level – Image credit, Billie Weiss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not the crushing disappointment of last Sunday’s final. Nor is it the aging body of the 33 year old seven-time Wimbledon champion. It’s what he’s lost in his two year Grand Slam drought.

His previous invincibility, that cool demeanour with which he took both triumph and adversity has all but evaporated. Now, he is a mere mortal.

As a case in point, Federer’s leap and fist-pump into the air after breaking Djokovic’s serve in the fourth set was almost identical to that which followed his 2009 Wimbledon victory over Andy Roddick.

Roger Federer – one of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen and a famously cool competitor – was celebrating winning just one game.

That is not to diminish the power of the Djokovic effect. He piled on the pressure; every game was a tightly fought battle. But that’s all the more reason for Roger to keep calm and carry on as normal. After all, he’s the king of that particular court.

Roger Federer, for perhaps the first time in his career, didn’t look like winning was his default setting. He confirmed his role as underdog by celebrating pegging level with a fist-pump; he looked almost appreciative for every point he remained in the contest.

And this is no fault of the mighty Fed. It is surely a sub-conscious reaction. He is the underdog. He has a lot less to lose than he used to. He said himself after the match that ‘the disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly’.

Compare that reaction to the tears he shed five years ago after losing the Australian Open final.

His over-egged celebration was symbolic of an entirely new Federer mind-set. Gratitude. He is appreciative of every game he remains competitive. For him to return to winning ways, Federer must rediscover some of the hunger which propelled him to seven Wimbledon victories.

It is heart-warming to see such a genuine love for the game, but if our hero is to go out with the proverbial bang, he must stop being so bloomin’ gracious.