Cameron Norrie bristling with intent as he launches pursuit of a place at the top
A year ago this week, Cameron Norrie learned that he had received a wild card into the main draw of Wimbledon. This was a landmark moment: his first appearance at a major, coming less than a month after he had turned professional. To celebrate, he visited a tattoo parlour. Motivational quotes are usually the go-to option for tennis ink, but Norrie - who will face the triple slam champion Stan Wawrinka on Monday at Queen’s Club - chose a different route. Discreetly inscribed on his chest, he wears the silhouette of a big cat. “It’s a puma,” Norrie told The Telegraph last week, as we rode together in a courtesy car belonging to the Nottingham Tennis Centre. “I just got it, liked it. It was my first time playing Wimbledon, my coach is Argentinian, I quite like rugby. [Argentina’s rugby team are known as the Pumas.] I had always wanted a tattoo and I didn’t want to get something mainstream.” “That’s you, isn’t it?” I reply. “Not mainstream.” He grunts, a very Norrie-ish noise. “I guess so.” As a Briton ranked in the world’s top 100, and a man who has already claimed such quality scalps as John Isner and Roberto Bautista-Agut, you might expect Norrie to be better known. Yet he is only now beginning to step out of the shadows, having dodged the hullaballoo that surrounds so many promising British juniors. Born in Johannesburg (oddly, the same place as British No1 Kyle Edmund), Norrie grew up in Auckland. He then spent three years studying at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where the tennis team rejoice in the nickname of “the horned frogs”. Again, not exactly mainstream. Norrie has some of the same disruptive energy as a young Andy Murray with whom he practised at Queen's on Friday Credit: John Walton/PA During his sophomore year - that’s the second, for British purposes - Norrie experienced an unlikely epiphany, which sounds as left-field as the rest of his back story. He was out late one night, messing around on a moped, when he lost his balance and crashed on the footpath. He wasn’t badly hurt, just a little scratched, but the timing was unfortunate because it came on the eve of the Dallas Challenger – one of the few professional tournaments close enough for TCU players to enter without disturbing their studies. When TCU head coach David Roditi learned what had happened, he pulled Norrie out of the event. “To miss that tournament was a big deal,” Norrie recalls now. “I was playing a full college schedule, and just to miss it for a non-tennis related injury was kind of … I didn’t like the idea of it. Norrie makes a triumphant Davis Cup debut Credit: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images “I was playing my best tennis at the time, and then it was kind of ‘OK, do I want to be a professional tennis player or do I want to just mess around and take risks?’ So I think it was a good wake-up call for me. In tennis you can’t have the best of both worlds, you have to be professional and focus that mindset. I didn’t waste a practice after that, and had some unbelievable results in college, which put me on the front foot starting my pro career last year.” Was it a case, I ask, of having enjoyed yourself too much up until that point? Norrie fixes me with a fierce glare. “What do you mean? I had a well-balanced college career. It was perfect for me.” If you have seen Norrie on the court - perhaps during his magnificent Davis Cup debut against Spain in February - you might recognise that combative stare. Greg Rusedski once talked about the “awkward intensity” of the young Andy Murray, and Norrie has something of the same disruptive energy. He is not here to make friends or to ingratiate himself, but to compete. As a schoolboy in Auckland - the son of a Scottish father and a Welsh mother - he showed promise at a number of sports, including cricket. But while he enjoyed batting and bowling, he missed the red-blooded confrontation of a one-on-one sport. And besides, “I was just bored with fielding.” Having peaked at No8 in the world as a junior, Norrie could have gone straight on to the Futures circuit, but he felt burned out after a couple of intensive years at the National Tennis Centre in London. So he embarked on a four-year sociology degree and began climbing the US college ranks. Outwitting opponents with his lefty forehand and flat, Murrayesque backhand, he would finish as the top-ranked player in the whole system. Facu Lugones - the laconic Argentine who has become Norrie’s coach - was part of the TCU team when Norrie arrived. “I remember the coaches telling me there’s a new guy, he’s gonna be good,” Lugones recalled. “He was very social, a very nice kid but he brought the little bit of mean streak to the team that made everyone a little bit uncomfortable, in a good way.” The other British hopefuls this summer | 2018 Yes, Norrie loves a scrap. When he travelled to Argentina last winter for the off-season, he did a radio interview in which he was accidentally introduced as Chuck Norris, cult American movie star and former jujitsu champion. The mistake felt strangely apposite. Admittedly, Norrie has yet to achieve the musclebound look shared by the likes of Murray and Edmund – a pair of enthusiastic gym rats. But he is preparing to add a fitness trainer to his entourage. “It’s such small margins so wherever I can get an edge I’ll take it,” he said last week. “I’m still looking [for the right person]. I’ll speak to the Lawn Tennis Association and make a decision.” A difficult man to read, Norrie’s globetrotting background has left him with a unique, Pacific-meets-Atlantic accent. If anything, he sounds like a surfer, peppering his statements with adjectives like “sick” (a compliment, apparently) and “stoked”. As he said before the French Open: “I just have to realise how sick it is to be playing tennis for a living and travelling the world.” Underneath the languid exterior, though, he is fiercely ambitious. Few college players have cracked the world’s top 80 within a year of turning professional, and fewer still look as comfortable on the big stage as Norrie does. At just 22 years old, this horned frog could yet become a prince.