For the first time in the history of the ATP, all semi-finalists in a Masters 1000 tournament were ranked outside the top 25 as the final four men’s players took to Stadium Court at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday. Of the four players, Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie was the highest ranked, an outcome that nobody could have possibly predicted at the beginning of the year.
Such a rare opportunity can often lead to crippling nerves but Norrie once again embraced the scale of the moment and continued to play with the freedom and conviction that has underlined his performances at Indian Wells and for much of this year. In doing so, Norrie thoroughly outplayed Grigor Dimitrov, the 23rd seed, 6-2, 6-4 to reach his first career Masters 1000 final, will meet Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in Sunday’s decider.
Norrie’s 46th victory of the year will bring him to a career high ranking of at least No 17 on Monday. He is guaranteed the British No 1 ranking by thumping Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals. Norrie has played the 36th-ranked Basilashvili once before, for a straight sets win in the first round at the Rotterdam indoor this year, and is likely to go into the final a narrow favourite.
“He’s an incredibly tough player, especially when he’s this confident” Norrie said of the Georgian. “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 all been great learning for me,” Norris continued. “Hopefully with these results I can put myself in a higher seeding [at the grand slams], then maybe have some more chances. I’ve faced some pretty decent players this year.”
Norrie, the 21st seed, opened with relentless consistency on his return and he worked Dimitrov over in the early exchanges, adding more height to his forehand and opening up the court before attacking Dimitrov’s backhand. Norrie quickly established a 4-0 lead and when Dimitrov recovered one of the breaks, Norrie was unmoved. He simply broke back immediately and then he coolly served out the first set with two unreturned serves.
While Dimitrov had enjoyed his own excellent tournament, defeating three consecutive top 20 opponents including a breathless comeback win against the world No 2, Daniil Medvedev, some fatigue was beginning to show in his previous round. There are few tougher players to face right now than Norrie in such a situation, and he continued to grind Dimitrov down from the baseline, eking out every last error as he immediately broke to begin the second set.
Throughout the second set, Dimitrov generated small moments of hope but Norrie continually shut the door in his service games and maintained his break throughout. At 6-2, 3-2, for example, Norrie opened his service game with two errors to fall down 0-30. He then walked slowly to his towel, composed himself and then recovered to hold serve from deuce with four winners in the game. Shortly after that, he closed out his first Masters 1000 semi-final to love.
Although he is playing at an extremely high level in California, Norrie has not pushed himself to an unsustainable level. He has brought a high level with him at the majority of tournaments he has played this year, and he is now thriving under the type of pressure that he has never before encountered. By reaching his first Masters 1000 final, Norrie has shown how much he has progressed and on Sunday he will try to go even further.