By Paul Eddison at Wimbledon
Cameron Norrie is set to face defending champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of Wimbledon as he faces perhaps the toughest test in tennis.
That’s the view of Leon Smith, head of men’s tennis at the LTA and British Davis Cup captain, ahead of Norrie’s encounter with the six-time Wimbledon champion on Friday.
If Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is the gold standard of tennis dominance with 14 titles, Djokovic’s recent record at Wimbledon is equally impressive. He hasn’t lost at the All England Club since 2017 and will be in his 11th semi-final as Norrie prepares for his first at Grand Slam level.
Facing arguably the greatest returner the sport has ever seen, Smith knows Norrie will have to take his game up a notch.
“That might be the biggest test,” Smith began. “There is Rafa among the French, Novak has won the last four titles here.
“He will have to play very well. He will have to take care of his service games against the best returner.
“I think he said it well that he’s going to have to bring it to him, without changing the way he plays. It’s important.
“You definitely can’t come out and try to pop the lid off the ball or start a serve and volley. Cam has to be himself but he has to take it on his own, maybe a few extra risks, calculated risks.
“He’s got to back up what he’s doing really well after the first serve, he’s going to have to get a lot of first serves and then back it up on the third ball. He should try to push the sets, reach the circuit breakers if he can and bring it to her. It’s a good way to look at things.
Norrie enters the match as a big underdog, given Djokovic’s recent record at Wimbledon. It means a status change for Norrie, who got the better of David Goffin in five sets in the previous round, an encounter he was favorite to win.
For Smith, the enormity of the occasion is unlikely to affect Norrie as he backed the Briton to give his best on the biggest day of his career.
“The mentality has to be that he has to go. I think he will cope well with the occasion. I think qualifying for the semi-finals was a big thing,” he continued.
“He’s going to have to take his game to another level, which I think will free him up a bit. Against Goffin, he started as the favourite. Novak is the favourite, so I think that will help him a bit.
At 26, Norrie has taken his time to rise to the top of the game, with this tournament the first time he has reached week two of a slam.
He sits just outside the world top ten, having previously been in that select group, but a run at Wimbledon puts him in a new dimension in terms of recognition.
And while much has been said about Norrie’s ability to maximize his potential and put himself in the best possible position to succeed, Smith is keen to emphasize that there’s more to his game than just strength and endurance.
“What happened this fortnight will propel him even higher and not that he needs to, he’s a very driven individual and someone who really believes in himself when I think some people don’t. haven’t seen that in his game,” he added.
“Whether it’s because he didn’t have a big enough game, it’s a great game and he continues to improve. Everyone rightly talks about his mental toughness, his resilience, his incredible physical condition, of what he has done in the last three or four years to develop his physical abilities, but the important thing is that he has also improved his tennis game.
“Hard work and physicality will get you this far. To be in the top ten you have to improve your game and he has it now. His serve is better, the forehand is definitely more of a weapon and I think he will continue to add things as well.
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