Cam Norrie has come home this summer and finally shown a UK audience what he is about, but still it was not enough to knock Roger Federer out of Wimbledon.
In the final major before his 40th birthday, the great Swiss survives in the second week, but only after sampling the huge improvements that have made Norrie, 25, a breakout player of 2021.
This was the vintage Rolls-Royce against the highly practical sporty diesel, and once Norrie got up to speed he gave the eight-times champion an outstanding battle on Centre Court.
Roger Federer held off a spirited rally by Cameron Norrie on Centre Court at Wimbledon
-The Swiss legend overcame Norrie in fourt sets, winning 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 on Centre Court
A fifth set might have seen a different outcome, but Federer was able to edge out the indefatigable British No 2 to win 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 and make the latter stages yet again.
This will be the 69th time Federer has made the fourth round or better of a Grand Slam, a mark that continues to elude Norrie, for all his consistency this season. The Swiss will fancy his chances of going further as he tackles the unseeded Italian, Lorenzo Sonego.
As Federer pointed out afterwards, he has no time to waste: ‘This one is special as I am almost 40, and this is the last Slam before I hit the big 4-0. It is all a bonus and it will be good to see how far I go.
‘I am very pleased, super relieved. It was a tough battle with Cam. He deserved that third set. I thought he played excellent today. For me, I felt I was able to keep a very high level of play. Overall, I can be very happy.’
He is in considerably better shape than Tuesday, when he had something of an escape through the injury that afflicted another southpaw opponent, Adrian Mannarino.
The Swiss ace had struggled in the earlier rounds but he stepped it up to go two sets up
Federer paid Norrie the compliment of declaring that this victory bolstered his self-belief ahead of next week’s challenges: ‘As a win for me, it’s like a reference point — if I can beat somebody of his level who’s played well last week, who is playing at home, who’s played a ton of matches … I know who I beat. It’s not just like a guy that can play good on the day. He’s a good player. I felt very much at peace out there, (with) really sort of a tranquillity I guess to everything I was doing.
‘Now I feel stiff. I have played a lot of tennis. I have loved every minute, I hope I have more left. It is a pleasure playing right now.’
There are few nearly 40-year-olds who would not mind being as stiff as this remarkable athlete. He can still run and he can still serve — and it was the usual pace and accuracy of the latter attribute that made the difference against the spirited home challenger when it mattered. Norrie, a recent Queen’s finalist and winner of 31 matches this year, will improve further for this experience.
Federer’s strategy was evident from early on, in that he was not going to hang around the back of the court waiting for things to happen.
The British No 2 rallied to edge a tight third set and threaten a fightback against Federer
He came pouring forward, often serve-and-volleying in the old school way with the intent of keeping points short. It worked well and had Norrie rocking back.
There was a run of 12 straight winning points that effectively sealed the first set in a wonderful display of clean and aggressive hitting. As Andy Murray could have told Norrie, this arena never feels like a home fixture when Federer is the opponent and the crowd were split in allegiance.
Norrie won more admirers early in the second set when a swinging serve curled all the way into the crowd and struck a young boy in the face. When he went down that end in the next game to receive the Briton took with him a towel as a present, and tossed it to the unfortunate lad and his mother.
The points were coming so thick and fast they were almost in a blur, which is the way Federer likes it against a more baseline-oriented opponent.
Norrie gets the crowd going during his men’s singles third round match against Federer
He remained in command for the second set, but was to find Norrie a more hardy competitor than Richard Gasquet in the previous round. The diesel engine now at full revs, Norrie showed off the gains he has made this year, including excellent footwork.
The pressure paid off when he scrambled to save break points at 5-5 in the third and reaped the reward of an almost panicky game from Federer, who sprayed errors to concede the set. In an uncharacteristic display of exuberance Norrie began whipping up the crowd with his arms — cheeky behaviour when a guest in someone’s home.
From the point of view of the home challenger, who lives a couple of stops up the District Line in Putney, the longer it could go on the better. Breaks were exchanged at 2-2 in the fourth, and the British player of Kiwi origins found himself under increasing pressure on serve.
Federer stuck to his task, and his greater grasscourt craft told in the end. His nerve is not quite what it was, but the skills remain phenomenal.