Five years ago, during the pre‑Wimbledon tournament at Queen’s Club, Cameron Norrie was in the midst of taking his first small step towards the top levels of professional tennis after college when he was granted a rare privilege. For the first time in his life, he had been drafted as a practice partner for the great Andy Murray. As an inexperienced wildcard about to meet the No 1 player in the world, he did not know what to do.
“He came up to me and introduced himself, which I thought was extremely humble of him and nice,” Norrie recalled, smiling. “I think I was practising with him later that week or in the afternoon. I was pretty tight: ‘Do I go and say hi to him or not? Does he even know who I am?’
“I thought it was very cool that he came up to me and introduced himself. I practised with him that week and then, obviously, we’ve practised a lot in the last couple of years.”
Five long years since their first meeting, the balance of power has gradually shifted. On Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati’s suburbs, Norrie and Murray will face each other in the second round as equals. Murray remains the former world No 1 who has achieved so much in this sport, but these days Norrie is naturally the clear favourite as a top‑10 player in the form of his life.
“It definitely took me a couple of years to catch up with my level,” Norrie said. “For the most part, I was having to play at my best in practice to keep up with him. I think, probably nowadays it’s pretty even between us. We always have good practices.”
As their relationship has built and a rapport has developed, Norrie says Murray has played a helpful role in his career. They train together frequently when both are at home in London and he often uses Murray as a sounding board, never afraid to seek him out for advice.
“I’m always picking his brains on certain situations, what he thinks about certain players, how they play and tactics,” he said. “Everything, really. He’s gone through a lot in the sport and he’s achieved almost everything so definitely a guy we’re lucky enough [to have] as a British player. To be practising with him a lot, to be spending time with him quite a lot, it’s pretty cool to pick his brain on a few things.”
Since his breakout run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, Norrie has continued his quiet progress. He reached a final in his very next tournament, in Los Cabs, beating the No 9, Félix Auger-Aliassime, before finishing as runner-up to Daniil Medvedev. Last week he reached the third round of the National Bank Open in Montreal before falling to Auger-Aliassime.
He has continued to do as he always does, winning the matches he should do, making himself a supreme challenge against the best players in the world and picking off plenty of them in the process.
On Monday, as Murray barely edged out Stan Wawrinka in nearly three hours, Norrie was in his own battle. He narrowly moved past the 19-year-old Holger Rune, winning 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4. Norrie said he felt uncharacteristically nervous and was not able to find anything close to his top level. But as he has done so often over the past 18 months, he found a way to secure victory.
With his success, life has changed for Norrie in various ways. He is now reliably recognised on the streets of the UK and in the days after Wimbledon he found himself being offered freebies wherever he went. He has also had to learn how to navigate one of the biggest challenges of being a top tennis player: being an employer who commands his team and all those around him.
“You’re making more tough decisions, bigger decisions based on what tournaments you’re gonna play, with money, doing your expenses. Taking care of everything. You’re not just out there playing tennis. You obviously have guys helping you, hiring your coach, physio, fitness trainer, accountant.
“Everything. For me, it’s more like you’re owning a business. You’re doing everything. I think it’s not easy, but I think there’s only one way. You have to be on top of it. Otherwise, if you get behind on all the other stuff, you cannot be as focused on the court.”