WATCH: Norrie discussed making the biggest final of his career on Saturday.


By now you might have seen the video from earlier this year, in which Cameron Norrie is asked which lesser-known ATP player he thinks might surprise people in 2021.

“I would like to say myself,” he tentatively tells the interviewer with a laugh, before raising his voice and boldly—or semi-boldly—making his plans known:

“I think I’m going to have a breakout season this year. Um, it’s obviously a big statement, but I’ll back myself and see how it goes.”

As he made clear in that interview, and over the last two weeks in Indian Wells, Norrie’s game and personality are a blend of seemingly unblendable contrasts.

On the one hand, he’s understated and sensible. During his six wins in the desert, the Brit invariably hit the right shot at the right time—nothing more, nothing less. And when he won the last of those six matches on Sunday, for the biggest title of his career, Norrie’s celebration was equally no-nonsense. After opponent Nikoloz Basilashvili’s last forehand went long, Norrie smiled toward his player box, raised his hands over his head, put them down again, and walked to the net.

Before the match, he was asked how it felt to be in his first Masters 1000 final. Norrie’s answer was true to his down-to-earth form.

“I’m really happy with how this week’s gone for me, obviously,” he said. “I feel like I’m improving.”

On the other hand, beneath the placid exterior, Norrie seems to have an unshakable belief in his abilities. He makes no secret that his goal is to be No. 1 in the world, while also admitting that this may sound a little too lofty for someone who is 26 years old and had never cracked the Top 20 before this week.

But that quiet self-belief is easy to see on court, even when he’s losing. At the majors this year, Norrie lost to Rafael Nadal twice and Roger Federer once. While he never really threatened either of those legends, I was struck by the way he never cratered mentally or acted resigned to his fate. The effort, and the fist-pumps, were there from start to finish.

Cleverness and quiet confidence would seem to be an ideal combination for a tennis player, and they were both on display in Norrie’s 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Basilashvili. The Georgian plays in top gear at all times, and few can stay with him when he’s on. The trick for Norrie was to weather his storms of good play, and find ways to make him beat himself.

“He’s looking good. He’s serving well. He’s being very proactive with his forehand. He’s looking dangerous,” Norrie said beforehand. “But I’m looking forward to the match.”

Basilashvili brought the storm early. In the words of Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier, he played “bombastic tennis” through the first set—bombastic, and bomb-tastic. Even with his lefty spins and backhand angles, there was little Norrie could do against his opponent’s corner-seeking missiles. But Basilashvili’s matches can turn around completely on a single shot, and that’s what happened on Sunday.

The shot came, predictably, right after he had gone up a set and a break, and the finish line appeared on the horizon. Serving at 2-1, 15-0, Basilashvili went for the corner with another forehand, and sent the ball 10 feet over the baseline. He missed another forehand at break point, and Norrie quietly took over from there.

He kept Basilashvili off-balance by mixing high-bouncing topspin forehands with flat, low-bouncing backhands. He dipped his passing shots safely and smartly at Basilashvili’s feet. He used the gusting wind to make his lefty serve in the ad court even tougher to return. And at 5-4 in the second set, he broke with two brilliant back-to-back plays: First with a drop-lob-volley combination, and then with a running backhand pass. Basilashvili won just one more game.


Norrie's victory in the desert puts him in contention for a maiden ATP Finals berth in Turin.

Norrie's victory in the desert puts him in contention for a maiden ATP Finals berth in Turin.

“It was just a strange match,” Norrie said. “It was over quite quickly, and then the last kind of set I was expecting it to be longer. He made a couple errors towards the end.”

It ended so quickly, it seemed that Norrie wasn’t sure what had just happened to him. He had won his first Masters 1000 title as the 21st seed, yet he had made it all look fairly normal and routine.

“I still don’t really know what I’m experiencing,” Norrie said. “It was an amazing couple of weeks and I’m so happy with how I treated all the occasions, all the big moments, all the matches.”

For the second time in two months, Great Britain has a surprise champion. Norrie’s win isn’t quite as meteoric or earth-shaking as Emma Raducanu’s was at the US Open. His was a stamp on an already-excellent season, and a reward for a career’s worth of step-by-step progress.

“I think my progression with tennis has been pretty steady,” Norrie said. “Obviously not been too quick to get up. Went through the challengers fairly quickly. Around kind of 60 to 80, I was stuck there, then made a jump forward. I think I’ve just been working hard and progressing nicely, making small improvements in my game and in my ranking."

“I think honestly doing it this way, getting slowly, slowly better every year, improving little things, I don’t think I’ve missed anything, made any big jumps.”

Until today, that is. Norrie will jump to No. 13 in the rankings this week, and he has put himself in the running for the ATP Finals. He’s also the No. 1 British male, and the sky would seem to be the limit for him in 2022.

When Norrie declared that he would have a breakout year in 2021, did he really think that would mean a Masters 1000 title and a possible trip to Turin? Knowing him as we know him now, he probably, quietly did.