Here’s the Password – Norrie and Basilashvili to Indian Wells Final

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Bill Simons

Indian Wells

If you have an itch to hack Cameron Norrie’s bank account (he’s won $3.5 million in career prize money) you might try the password SANZGBTCU.  

That would be SA for South Africa where Cam was born, NZ for New Zealand, where he grew up, GB for Great Britain, where he went to live when he was 15, and TCU, where he went to college.

But here in the desert it’s been harder for players to crack Norrie on court.

The British story here was supposed to be the “metal-hipped” comeback of Andy Murray, or the desert debut of US Open darling Emma Raducanu. But Indian Wells observers soon focused on the Norrie story.

As three of the most sublime left-handers in tennis, Rod Laver, Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles, looked on, southpaw Norrie showed off his unique package of gifts. Only France’s Adrian Manarino and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez have such a nasty, low, lefty slice. Plus he backs it up with a varied forehand. Just ask Roberto Bautista Agut or Diego Schwartzman, whom he dismantled 6-0, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

Norrie brings variety, defense, patience, and calm decision making. But for four years he seemed to be (dare we say) essentially a journeyman. Prior to the pandemic, he’d won just four Slam matches in his career. As the year began, he was ranked No. 71. But the TCU Horned Frog, who has long worked with his former college teammate Facundo Lugones, won his first title in Los Cabos and beat Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov and Dan Evans in San Diego to reach the final. And in today’s semi, he gave the stunned desert crowd a flawless start-to-finish performance.

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He broke Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov three times to capture the first set 6-2. But not to worry. His Bulgarian foe had scored two stunning come-from-behind wins over the No. 2 player in the world and the top seed in Indian Wells, Daniil Medvedev, and then over the Miami Open champ Hubert Hurkacz.

He said he had simplified his life and was doing the things that made him feel good. 

But today he wasn’t good. He showed little of the Bulgarian boldness that had been key in his earlier wins. His energy was muted. Where was the explosiveness he’d displayed this week? His backhand slice was rarely a bother for the gritty Brit. Dimitrov didn’t hit a single ace. 

A sublime 6’ 3” athlete who was playing his seventh Masters semifinal, Grigor unleashed a couple of highlight reel forehands. But they provided only fleeting moments of interest in what was a lopsided, drama-free takedown. What we saw from one of the most beautiful players wasn’t pretty. And every time he mounted a modest threat, Norrie served big, attacked Dimitrov’s backhand, constructed well-crafted points, or simply waited for Grigor to give him a donation. Dimitrov suffered 31 unforced errors.

With his 6-2, 6-4, 1:26 win, Norrie reached his sixth final of the year and joined Andy Murray, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski as the fourth Brit to reach the BNP Paribas final. On Sunday he’ll be aiming to become the first Brit and first lefty since Nadal in 2013 to lift the Indian Wells trophy. And if he does he’ll have $1.2 million more in his bank account, the one that just might have SANZGBTCU as its password.

•••• 

When tennis’ most beloved player ever, Roger Federer, returned to play earlier this year in Doha after a 13 month absence, Nikoloz Basilashvili promptly beat him. What a bummer. 

When Americans were hoping that Taylor Fritz would break through and become the first American in 20 years to win Indian Wells, Basilashvili stepped all over the Fritz blitz. 

I guess this guy just likes to rain on the parade. Or maybe he’s a Georgian who simply blooms in the desert. Earlier this year he lifted Doha’s iconic Falcon trophy, and now, after overpowering Taylor, he’s into the BNP Paribas final.

Today Basilashvili and Fritz were both playing their first Masters semis ever. The two had split their two earlier matches this year. From the outset the 29-year-old Georgian dazzled. He hits bigger off the ground, on both the forehand and backhand, than anyone on the tour.

His 100 mph forehands down the line and his thunderbolt backhands simply astound. I asked him how he did it. Was it eye-hand coordination, taking the ball early, or what?

But he provided no secrets. “Right now I’ve been using [my forehand] a little bit efficiently…I’m stronger and more relaxed. I’ve been on the tour some time, so I’m kind of experienced, and overall playing better…It’s just naturally I’m hitting fast the ball.”

Jim Courier noted, “This guy is at the casino rolling the dice. He’s so hot now. He’s almost unplayable when he’s hitting this big. But there’s a reason why the biggest players don’t play this way. It’s just unsustainable. It’s just pure pain on the other side of the net.” 

Of course Taylor brings power too, and is a considerable battler. He had three set points in the first set. But ultimately tennis is all about execution at the big moments. That’s just what Fritz did Friday against world No. 4 Alexander Zverev in the match of his life. 

But today, the 6′ 4″ Californian, who’ll soon be ranked No. 30, didn’t come through in the big moments. His backhand flew long on three set points and then he dropped the first set tiebreak when Basilashvili hit a brilliant return.

“The tennis Nikoloz is playing today is top 5 tennis,” noted Courier. Taylor fell behind 5-2 in the second set as Basilashvili continued to zone. “That’s absolutely ludicrous stuff!” said broadcaster Michael Cation. 

“It was really tough,” said Fritz. “I wanted to play aggressive and attack, but…it was incredibly tough for me to ever get an opportunity to go big. I had a lot of chances…[but] I didn’t feel like I had good looks to pull it on a big point…His backhand, he definitely hits harder than anybody…So hard and flat and deep. Nothing you can really do – nobody hits it harder.”

Ironically, Fritz played some of his best tennis when his foe tightened while serving for the match. Taylor saved three match points before Basilashvili hit a 118 mph serve, followed by a forehand winner, to score a 7-6, 6-3 win to book his place in the final against Norrie. The Brit said a key to his extraordinary rise in the rankings has been “being more comfortable with being uncomfortable.” In tomorrow’s final he’ll certainly be uncomfortable, but then again that’s the Norrie story.

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