Battling Norrie unable to derail the Nadal French Open juggernaut

  • Spaniard cruises to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over British No 2
  • Novak Djokovic advances in three sets, Roger Federer in four

Having never stepped on to a tennis court with Rafael Nadal in the opening three years of his ATP tour career, Cameron Norrie is starting to become familiar with the best. For a third time this year, Norrie stared down the Spaniard and showed the merits of his game, but ultimately he was unable truly to trouble Nadal, who moved into the fourth round of the French Open with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win.

As they prepared to face each other once more, Norrie was asked in his press conference if a match against Nadal at Roland Garros is the toughest task in sport. He concurred, but he also offered an interesting account of what he took from their previous encounters: “I’ve learned that he’s actually a human being,” said Norrie. “He can miss shots. He can play short at times. But then you give him a little bit of room for him to find his forehand, he gets it going. He can be extremely dangerous. It can be absolute carnage going into the forehand there.”

In the early stages on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Nadal closely resembled the latter description. He was sharp, solid and present. The solidity of Nadal’s game only exposed the most vulnerable shot on the court – Norrie’s forehand. While Norrie dragged Nadal into some lengthy 20-shot exchanges and tried to step inside the baseline and impose his game where he could, his inability to consistently finish off points with his forehand made it too easy for Nadal. It quickly became the side that Nadal summarily broke down as he took the first break of serve and eventually the opening set.

Nadal is indeed human, even at Roland Garros, and he struggled with his own forehand early in the second set. As his length was diminished, he also sprayed forehand errors and Norrie pounced. He broke Nadal’s serve in consecutive games, including with a drilled backhand down-the-line winner to open up a 3-1 lead.

One of the essential factors in Nadal’s success is his ability to move on from his mistakes. Each time Nadal lost his serve, he broke back immediately. He took control of the second set by demonstrating the breadth of his court craft, winning two points with excellent drop-shot-to-lob combinations. Nadal closed the set out with one more moment of brilliance – a running backhand passing shot. Norrie never stopped searching for solutions and he even attempted a more risky approach. But, as for almost all others in Norrie’s position, there was no way back.

Cameron Norrie broke Rafael Nadal’s serve twice early in the second set but was unable to take advantage.
Cameron Norrie broke Rafael Nadal’s serve twice early in the second set but was unable to take advantage. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Victoria Azarenka underlined the sentiment on Twitter: “Watching Rafa play at Roland Garros to me is like watching your favourite movie. You enjoy it a lot but you kinda already know what is going to happen.”

Norrie leaves Paris on the back of some of the best months of his career and at the top of the game. He has finally achieved the true breakthrough on clay that he was always capable of. He boasts a 25-12 record for the year, which is currently the third most wins on the men’s tour and already by far the most ATP matches he has won in a season.

Earlier in the tournament, Norrie talked about the differences in his game between now and his first appearance in 2018. “I think I just grew to love the sport a little bit more,” he said. “And it’s become very addicting. It’s obviously tough. Week in, week out, you take a lot of losses and I think that’s kind of got me stuck, got me hooked on enjoying the game a lot more. Still wanting to prevail and to succeed, to go for more and want more.”

Norrie will head to the grass season in search of more, while Nadal’s attention will turn to the greater challenges ahead. He will next face 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, who offered a brief challenge in the first set of their quarter-final last year, and who improves with each new tournament.

Roger Federer celebrates beating Dominik Koepfer 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 in an empty night session
Roger Federer beat Dominik Koepfer 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 in an empty night session. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

In an eerie, empty session late into the Parisian night, Roger Federer reached the fourth round with a gritty 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 win over Dominik Koepfer. After falling down a break in the third set, Federer looked fatigued, flat and in serious danger of defeat. But he persevered, edging out the third set from behind before securing a deeply impressive win in four tight sets. He will next face the ninth seed, Matteo Berrettini, in his first match against a top 10 player since his return.

As Novak Djokovic continues to stroll through the draw, his next obstacle will come from a young prospect. Djokovic easily defeated Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 to set up a match with another 19-year-old Italian, Lorenzo Musetti, in the fourth round.

Contributor

Tumaini Carayol

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
French Open 2021: Nadal beats Norrie, Krejcikova shocks Svitolina – as it happened
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal eased to straight-sets wins while Barbora Krejcikova shocked fifth seed Elina Svitolina and Iga Swiatek marched on

Luke McLaughlin

05, Jun, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
French Open comes too soon for the young lions of New Tennis
Rafael Nadal is the favourite, but Ernests Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz and Grigor Dimitrov are starting to see daylight

Kevin Mitchell

25, May, 2013 @9:00 PM

Article image
Rafael Nadal likely to turn French Open up to 11 despite Thiem’s threat
Dominic Thiem is the only player to beat the Rafael Nadal on clay this season but an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros for the Spaniard surely beckons

Kevin Mitchell at Roland Garros

09, Jun, 2018 @2:02 PM

Article image
Nadal falls out of love with French Open but still courting attention
Spaniard’s unhappiness with weather, heavy balls and slow courts means Novak Djokovic is fancied to take advantage at Roland Garros

Kevin Mitchell

26, Sep, 2020 @9:30 PM

Article image
French Open: History boys go into battle with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver
French Open: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic can both rewrite the record books with one more grand slam victory

Kevin Mitchell in Paris

26, May, 2012 @9:00 PM

Article image
Novak Djokovic reaches French Open final with epic win over Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic sealed an incredible 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-2 win against the 13-times champion to book a place in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas

Tumaini Carayol

11, Jun, 2021 @10:21 PM

Article image
French Open 2012: History beckons for Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic can become the first man to win four consecutive grand slams since 1969 – yet he is the underdog against Rafael Nadal, the best clay-court player ever

Kevin Mitchell in Paris

09, Jun, 2012 @9:59 PM

Article image
Rafael Nadal is last of the golden greats still standing before US Open | Jacob Steinberg
With Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer struggling with injuries, can the next generation, led by Dimitrov, Thiem and Zverev, finally step up?

Jacob Steinberg

20, Aug, 2017 @8:59 AM

Article image
Confident Andy Murray ready to finally conquer clay at French Open
Having beaten Novak Djokovic in the Rome Masters final, the Scot is the serious contender bringing the most encouraging form to Paris

Kevin Mitchell at Roland Garros

21, May, 2016 @9:00 PM

Article image
Djokovic needs passion with precision to navigate Nadal’s French Open grip
World No 1 was muted as he tanked the 2020 final but must not go overboard with emotion or he risks drowning in the frustrations the King of Clay will throw his way

Tumaini Carayol

10, Jun, 2021 @2:15 PM