Saturday, October 16, 2021 - Grigor Dimitrov and Cameron Norrie play in a men's semifinal match at Stadium 1 on day 13 of the 2021 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, CA. (Kathryn Riley/BNP Paribas Open)
The matches just keep getting bigger by the day for Cameron Norrie.
In a year that’s seen him capture his first ATP title, reach a career-high ranking and leapfrog countryman Daniel Evans as the new British No. 1, the 26-year-old finds himself in his first-ever Masters 1000 final at the BNP Paribas Open.
An unlikely finalist in a draw that featured six of the Top 10 players in the world, the purple-clad lefthander — born in South Africa, raised in New Zealand and schooled in the heart of Texas — powered his way past the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut, Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov, each match seemingly career-defining.
His next, against another first-time Masters 1000 finalist, Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, is surely the biggest of the onetime TCU standout’s tenure on the tour.
“He’s an incredibly tough player, especially when he’s this confident,” said Norrie of the 29th-ranked Basilashvili, who dismissed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz in succession to reach the title tilt. “He hits the ball big off both sides. He moves well. He’s a great athlete. When he’s confident, he can beat anyone. He’s super dangerous. It’s going to be difficult, but I’m feeling good physically and looking forward to getting out there.”
As Fritz will attest, Basilashvili strikes the ball with authority.
“His backhand he definitely hits harder than anybody on tour,” said the Californian. “The way that it comes through the court so hard and flat and deep, there’s nothing you can really do.”
The Indian Wells finalists have met just once before, earlier this year in Rotterdam on an indoor hard court, with Norrie claiming a 6-0, 6-3 win. But Basilashvili, who has two titles on the year (Doha, Munich), has been playing at a whole other level in the Southern California desert.
“[He’s a] really interesting player,” said Basilashvili, the first Georgian to advance to a Masters 1000 final. “It’s not so nice to play him from the baseline. He’s been playing really, really smart tennis. But I’m looking forward to it. If I can play my game and be relaxed, I think I can play well.”
Norrie, 26, is trying to become the first British man to win the title in tournament history. Tim Henman was a two-time finalist (2002, 2004), and Greg Rusedski was the runner-up in 1998.
One thing’s for sure: Sunday’s champion will become the first player ranked outside the Top 25 to win the Indian Wells title since Croat Ivan Ljubicic in 2010, then ranked No. 26 — the same as Norrie.
“The last two days have been the biggest matches of my career,” said the Brit. “I’m going to go out there and it’s going to be the biggest match of my career again tomorrow. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m looking forward to the occasion. Feeling all the nerves and all the pressure — it’s definitely great to experience.