10 Jan 2019

Cameron Norrie: The one that got away

7:43 pm on 10 January 2019

Opinion - "My ranking, I think, says it all." Those were the words of 23-year-old former Aucklander Cameron Norrie yesterday after being asked if he had a point to prove this week.

Note the word 'former'. Norrie now represents Great Britain, rather than New Zealand, and finds himself in the men's ASB Classic semifinal tomorrow.

Cameron Norrie playing for Great Britain during the ASB Classic Quarter Finals.

Cameron Norrie playing for Great Britain during the ASB Classic Quarter Finals. Photo: Photosport

With a world ranking of 90, Norrie's run this week has been a blessing and a curse for tennis in New Zealand.

On one hand, he's breathed life into a tournament that was blighted first by a run of no-shows, then the top seeds dropping like flies - before Norrie's win, Italian second seed Fabio Fognini bombed out in straight sets to German Philipp Kohlschreiber. On the other, he's a reminder that Tennis New Zealand somehow managed to let maybe the brightest prospect in the game here slip through their fingers.

Norrie triumphed over American Taylor Fritz, who, despite looking like he was still in high school, is 43 spots ahead of him in the ATP rankings.

The 7-6, 6-3 win was an entertaining mixture of good rallies and a weapons grade service game from Fritz, who was sending down aces at 220km/h. However, the Kiwi-turned-Brit held his nerve to pull off the straight sets win.

So just how did Norrie, who is clearly set up for a bright future, elude the grasp of a governing body that needs someone to carry the flag for their sport?

Quite simply, it came down to money and who Tennis New Zealand and the privately run Seed Foundation deserved it. While Norrie was a world top 10 ranked junior, no funding came his way. Like he'd said in the aforementioned quote, it didn't take until he'd won his way into a semifinal today for the people that made that decision to realise they'd made a huge mistake.

Norrie knows it, too. His switch at age 16 was a carefully calculated gamble - but a gamble nonetheless. Qualifying through the heritage of his parents, he was able to tap into funding in Britain and live there on his own for three years. After a spot at Texas Christian University's tennis team opened up, he took it and turned pro after his graduation. He described his homecoming breakthrough as "special, but kind of weird."

"I have a lot of friends here and a lot of coaches that helped me along the way and they're all out here watching. I think it's very interesting for a lot of people," he said.

"It's nice to play well here. I want to keep going and I'm not done yet."

Rubin Statham wins over Hyeon Chung during the ASB Classic.

Rubin Statham wins over Hyeon Chung during the ASB Classic. Photo: Photosport

Of course, the ASB Classic don't mind one bit. They could tell just how important a run from the Norrie would be, so issued him with a wildcard. They've been at pains to remind everyone that he grew up here in Auckland, even then when Norrie speaks, it's with a distinct New Zealand accent anyway.

So they won't mind either that the crowd has overlooked the Union Jack next to his name and treated him like a hometown hero anyway. The state of tennis here is such that actual Kiwi rep Rubin Statham's shock first round win over Hyeon Chung elicited a standing ovation and excited high fives in the media box.

While Statham predictably went down in his next match, there is every chance Norrie could go through and win the whole thing. Now that would be some poetic justice.

*Frustration at his own shortcomings as a rugby player and multiple concussions have left Jamie with an innate ability to find fault with rules, players, matches and sporting bodies alike.

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