Cameron Norrie had every reason to be filled with frustration as his battle with a great British player seemed to be falling away from him. For all of Andy Murray’s positive, proactive play in the opening set of their encounter at the Western and Southern Open, Norrie had made too many unforced errors and given away too much for free and he knew it. But one of the fundamental qualities that have driven Norrie towards the top of his game is his boundless composure.
His head did not drop, his shoulders did not slouch and emerged from his bathroom break after the first set still positively searching for a solution. He eventually found it. After three tough, physical sets that left Murray cramping badly by his chair at the end of the match, Norrie reached the third round in Cincinnati by outlasting Murray 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to secure his first win against the former No 1.
Despite years of training together on the courts of the National Tennis Centre in which both players gained a granular understanding of the other’s game, Norrie and Murray had faced each other only once in an official match before in Beijing, which Murray won in three tight sets. But back then Norrie was ranked 69th, merely a solid top-100 player. He is a different player today.
They arrived on Center Court on Wednesday morning and, predictably, tough, attritional rallies followed. It was Murray who was extremely sharp from the beginning. After a series of holds, Murray imposed himself by positively, proactively moving forward to finish points off the net and he gave away minimal unforced errors. The constant pressure he inflicted on Norrie eventually told and at 4-3, he snatched the decisive break with a supreme, angled backhand crosscourt passing shot winner.
But Norrie carried on as he always does, maintaining his composure and consistency. After serving well and navigating four consecutive holds, Norrie stepped inside the baseline, searching for forehands in the big moments and unleashing without mercy. In the big moments, Norrie served well, ending the second set with an ace.
Throughout the final set, Murray generated ample opportunities to snatch an important victory, particularly in a tight, attritional game a 3-3 in which he produced three break points. But with each error on those decisive points, Norrie further locked down his game, forcing Murray to hit through him as he refused to bail out of the long rallies.
As those physical exchanges endured, Norrie’s resolve gradually broke Murray down physically. Murray began to cramp and he eventually served a double-fault on break point. As Norrie swept up the final games and secured another victory, Murray’s cramping continued after the handshake and he was in visible pain as a trainer treated him on-court.
As Murray arrived in Cincinnati this year, he was struggling. He had compiled just a 2-3 record in North America, with first-round losses in Washington and Montreal that were tough to swallow. His only post-Wimbledon victories came against players outside of the top 200. Any momentum he hoped to build from his encouraging start to the summer had long vanished.
His performance in Cincinnati was an improvement on the past weeks and there is little shame in fighting until the end with a highly ranked player fresh off a Wimbledon semi-final. But he leaves with lingering questions over his conditioning. Murray has now suffered from cramp in three of his last four matches, a defeat against Mikael Ymer in Washington, his first round match in Cincinnati against Stan Wawrinka and once more on Wednesday. His physical vulnerabilities will only be more pronounced over best of five sets matches at the US Open.
After another showing of his consistency and physical strength, a 39th win of the season for Norrie has afforded him a third-round encounter with Casper Ruud, the fifth seed, or promising American wildcard Ben Shelton, who face each other later on Wednesday. Before then, he will play another two sets in doubles alongside Alex de Minaur. There are surely many more miles left in his legs.