After an imperious breakthrough week at the BNP Paribas Open in which the heightened stakes of each new round brought out a greater level of play from Cameron Norrie, the best men’s tennis player in Great Britain took one final step forward as he produced one of the most surprising Masters 1000 triumphs in recent memory. From a set and a break deficit, Norrie recovered to defeat Nikoloz Basilashvili 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 and become the first British man to win the prestigious Indian Wells title.
In addition to the small matter of triumphing at the fifth biggest annual tournament on the planet – just his second career ATP title – Norrie departs Indian Wells with a new career high ranking of 16 and he has dragged himself firmly into contention for the ATP Finals in Turin, now 10th in the ATP race. Since Rafael Nadal is injured, Norrie is only one spot and 110 points out of the top eight.
“It means so much to me, my biggest title,” said Norrie afterwards. “I’m so happy, I can’t even describe it right now. It was a strange match today but absolutely massive for me and my team and I can’t really believe it. If you would’ve told me I would have won the tournament before the tournament started, I wouldn’t believe you. So, it’s amazing.”
The slow courts at Indian Wells yielded a final with two contrasting styles. While the conditions have augmented Norrie’s strengths, making it even more difficult to put the ball past him and helping to establish long rallies, Basilashvili is one of the most destructive shotmakers on the tour. Across a series of wins against seeded players, including No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, he has been one of the few big-hitters able to consistently hit through the conditions.
Norrie opened the match as he has throughout the fortnight, constantly making returns, lengthening rallies and working Basilashvili’s more error-prone wing, his forehand. He swiftly broke serve and took an early 3-1 lead. But Basilashvili slowly found his range and began to impose his considerable weapons on Norrie. From 1-3 down, he moved through five consecutive games to take the set and he soon led 6-3, 2-1 with a break.
But this was entirely new ground for both players and as Norrie continued to pull Basilashvili into lengthy cross-court rallies, particularly from the deuce court between Norrie’s backhand and Basilashvili’s forehand, the Georgian slowly began to offer more unforced errors. Norrie broke back and took a 3-2 lead in the second set, confidence growing in his own service games.
The second set was essentially decided by two inspired points at 5-4 to Norrie on Basilashvili’s serve. First he moved inside the baseline, executed a drop shot and then finished the long point with a composed volley winner, then he drilled a spectacular down-the-line backhand passing shot winner. Two Basilashvili errors later, Norrie broke to love.
Having re-established the lengthy, attritional cross-court rallies while drawing out ample errors from an impatient Basilashvili, Norrie struck just one unforced error in the first three games of the set, even recovering from triple break point down at 2-0 en route to a 3-0 lead. With his momentum established, Norrie refused to relinquish control, breaking once more before serving out the match with ease.
“I’ve been really enjoying my tennis and really been enjoying being out on court and competing in the big moments. I’m just really pleased with how I handled the occasion and I think I’m doing that a lot this year. I know I lost in a lot of finals so it’s nice to get the big one today,” he said.
Norrie’s path to the top of the sport has been unique, from his initial decision to take the longer route to the professional game by first attending university to the slow burn of his ranking improvement he has taken since his debut. He may not have received the hype of his peers for much of his career, but here he stands, demanding it through the strength of his results.
“I still don’t really know what I’m experiencing,” he said. “It was an amazing couple of weeks and I’m so happy with how I treated all the occasions, all the big moments, all the matches. I’m so happy, so pleased to win my biggest title.”
In the thrilling, tense women’s final, 23-year-old Paula Badosa of Spain recovered to defeat Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) in over three hours and win her first ever WTA 1000 title. Azarenka served for the match and led 5-4, 30-0 in the third set but she lost her serve with four errors. Badosa boldly closed out the final set tiebreak with four winners to seal a win that has pushed her into the top eight of the WTA race ahead of the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.