Cameron Norrie becomes British No 1 after reaching Indian Wells semi-finals

Cameron Norrie described his straight sets victory over Diego Schwartzman as the biggest win of his career

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If Indian Wells likes to describe itself as “tennis paradise”, then Cameron Norrie was on cloud nine on Thursday. A blowout victory over world No 15 Diego Schwartzman was good enough to see Norrie climb above Dan Evans in the rankings and so become the new British No 1.

Since Andy Murray’s hip blew up four-and-a-half years ago, three men have held this honour, and each of them has played in a completely different style.

There was the power merchant Kyle Edmund (who is still battling his own career-threatening knee injury). Then Evans, a net-loving touch player who reigned for two years. And finally Norrie, the tennis equivalent of the Looney Tunes’ Road Runner. He covers every inch of the court and never runs out of gas.

Norrie has now entered the ranks of those men you really don’t want to be drawn against. He isn’t a hugely aggressive player, usually aiming well within the lines, but he puts his opponents through the mill via countless extended rallies. It is death by a thousand bunts.

Schwartzman has a reputation for doing exactly the same thing, so these two have a lot in common. But there is a significant difference in how much confidence they brought into this tournament. Where Norrie has played four finals in 2021, winning his maiden ATP title in Mexico along the way, Schwartzman has had a lean time for a man who was recently ranked among the world’s top 10.

Even so, few men have ever brushed the squat and super-consistent Schwartzman out of the way so quickly. Norrie did not commit an unforced error until the end of the fourth game. He is completely at home on this slow and gritty court, which makes the balls fluff up so quickly that they might have been chewed by your dog, and gives little value for attacking strokes.

These points had to be chiselled out of the unyielding surface, constructed as carefully as an Airfix kit. Happily, Norrie had arrived primed for the long game. “Some people think that you have to be aggressive against Diego,” he said on Wednesday, “but I am going to play long points and really test the fitness.”

The plan worked to perfection as Norrie completed his 6-0, 6-2 victory in just 73 minutes, so reaching the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 event for the first time. When Schwartzman failed to win a game in the opening set, it was only the second time he had been “bagelled” all season. And the other instance had come against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, which is the toughest assignment in tennis.

Norrie is something of a Nadal imitator – at least when he is loading up his lefty forehand with heavy topspin and using it to drag his opponents around the court. His backhand is completely different, a flat and skiddy prod that is more reminiscent of Jimmy Connors’s baseball-type swing from 50 years ago.

As a result, Norrie’s opponents feel that they are playing two completely different players, depending which flank he is hitting off. His arsenal is so unbalanced that he puts one in mind of a retiarius – the Roman gladiator who fought with a trident in one hand and a weighted net in the other.

“This was the biggest win of my career with all the circumstances and the pressure,” Norrie told Amazon Prime after the match. “I was pretty happy with everything.

“With Diego you have to be careful. He’s never going to go away. He’s snuck through a couple of matches already this tournament and I thought about them, not letting him back in the match and keeping my foot down. I was able to play some great tennis and free up towards the end.”

California has been kind to Norrie over the last couple of weeks. He is well suited to life on the West Coast, with his surfer-dude manner and his fondness for words like “sick” and “stoked”. He arrived in San Diego last month on a run of four straight hard-court defeats, and was thus delighted to reach the final, beating Evans along the way.

Now it is raining dollars in the desert, where Norrie’s earnings from the BNP Paribas Open already stand at £246,000 – twice as much as he has ever made from a single tournament before. He has timed his run well, because Indian Wells is the most prestigious – and the best-rewarded – tournament outside the four grand slams, even if this year’s attendance figures have been badly hit by the postponement from March to October.

Norrie’s semi-final will be played late Saturday night, UK time. And the incentives are significant: not only another doubling in prize money but a possible late entry to the ATP Tour Finals as one of the leading players of the season.

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