‘There is more than one way to skin a cat’, as I believe the saying goes. And this is certainly true in terms of developing into a Top 100 Tennis Player in the world. Last week’s hot topic on social media was Kyle Edmund and his epic Australian Open campaign, resulting in his first Grand Slam Semi-Final and a move up to #26 in the world. This weekend’s trend was Cameron Norrie, the 22 year old British star that, for some, turned into an overnight sensation with his performances over #23 ranked Roberto Bautista Agut and #21 ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas in this weekend’s Davis Cup tie between GB and Spain in Marbella. Norrie brought all sorts of well deserved accolades; none more welcomed than from Andy Murray, who tweeted:
This was not just the fact that ATP #114 (Norrie) took out Bautista Agut: this was Norrie’s first pro match on a clay court, his first 5 set match, his first Davis Cup match. So where has Norrie been hiding?
As I said last week, I picked Edmund at age 14-15 to be a star in this game – see blog ‘In-kedible…’ (below). Well, I saw Norrie aged 17 and I wasn’t so impressed. Yes he had skills, but he had holes in his game and seemed mentally and physically immature. Edmund was ready at this stage. Edmund is the outlier in this sport. Norrie was the norm. Most 17-18 year olds are not ready for the tour physically, mentally or emotionally.
Norrie was fortunate enough to be advised to take his talents over to the US College system where he would have time to hone his skills in an extremely competitive environment. I want to explore a few reasons why I believe this system works so well for so many. Judy Murray will lead me into this with her quote late last night on social media:
Which pro player can afford 2-3 coaches who are giving you their undivided attention, watching every match, every training session? Can afford a full-time physical trainer? A nutritional team behind you, a medical team that is there for your every need? Your own personal stringer, public relations officer, tour planner (Hotels, restaurants)? Not many, right? This is what Norrie would have had in terms of support throughout his time at Texas Christian University (TCU).
In his 3 seasons at TCU, Norrie played 97 singles matches and 88 doubles matches. This is amazing when you remember he only played 5 months of the year in college (he spent each fall semester playing ATP/ITF events – which the university would support in expenses and coach support). Norrie averaged 45 pro matches each year throughout college, so was approaching 80 singles matches per year throughout this period. Those who start playing futures right out of juniors are normally closer to 50-60 matches if they are fortunate enough to afford a full schedule. Add in the fact that these matches are played with the support mentioned above, Norrie was given a wonderful opportunity to drill in his game identity and develop a real knack for winning matches and working his opponents out, which is one of his big strengths on the court.
Whilst you are still developing emotionally/mentally, it is a god send to play these matches without ‘pressure’. Now, don’t get me wrong, of course Norrie would have dealt with massive pressures, representing his University in key matches as well as his early success on the pro tour. However, the security of being at University, getting a degree, the comfort of the support team and the low financial burden of being a college player eases some of that pressure and would have allowed Norrie to subtly play a little free-er.
Nonetheless, Norrie’s ability to deal with pressure was honed by leading his university team and becoming accustomed to playing in front of big crowds with the team expectation. This weekend in Marbella, we saw he was extremely comfortable in this environment, which is why, as stated above, some see it as an overnight sensation, when those closer to him know he has been working and developing these skills for moments like these for years.
In Dec 2016 Norrie was ranked inside the top 300 ATP and he had a choice on whether to go back to TCU for his Junior year (3rd year) or to go pro. I know he received lots of pressure from people on both sides. Some pushed the pro route, as at this stage it was obvious he was ready or the tour. At the same time, he had a strong alliance with his ‘Frogs’ from TCU, who were pushing for a NCAA National Title – the pinnacle of College Tennis. Cameron followed his heart and led TCU to a fantastic season winning 21 of his 22 matches that year which is an extremely impressive record.
He then went straight into the grass court season on the back of this ‘winning’, which we all know is a ‘habit’ and in his second week out of college beat Horacio Zeballos who was 48 in the world at the time in Eastbourne. He continued this great run throughout the summer, winning challenges (like Edmund himself) in Binghampton and Tiburon, carrying on this amazing winning streak.
Yes, I believe that if you are good enough you are good enough, but at the same time I strongly believe timing and momentum are key as a player rises up the rankings. Norrie has nailed these milestones along the way to what I believe will see him move into the world’s top 50 and beyond over the coming months/years.
Backs himself physically and mentally
This winning feeling and tight match mentality leads a player to back themselves in these big moments both physically and mentally. These were the first words Norrie spoke after his historic win over Bautista Agut on Friday: ‘I continued to back myself mentally and physically throughout the match. That never faulted.’ I was fortunate enough to be there on Friday and Cameron wasn’t playing well for 2.5 sets (bar the first few games of the first set), but he continued to do exactly that and when the opportunity presented itself he was there to take it. Hats off to you, young man!
2018 has already shown that there is life behind Andy Murray in Men’s British Tennis. Cameron and Kyle stories showcase different journeys to a similar destination. If you look into detail at all top 100 tennis played in the world, you would see a number of different journeys to the same destination.
With extraordinary levels being shown by both of these players at different stages of their development, what we can’t get away from is that whether Kyle (aged 16) on the ITF Junior Circuit or Cameron (aged 19) in US College, the game at this level is not for the faint-hearted and does not happen overnight.
Control the Controllables. Day in Day out.
Director, SotoTennis Academy
Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain