Cameron Norrie is taking a holiday. It is a thoroughly out-of-character move for the British No 1 – who must rank among the hardest-working men in sport – but it is also his best shot at springing a Davis Cup surprise in three-and-a-half weeks’ time.
Great Britain are due to play Serbia in Malaga on Nov 23. Their task became twice as difficult on Tuesday when Dan Evans – the team’s heartbeat in Manchester last month – suffered a season-ending calf tear. Now Norrie needs to shake off his autumnal blues, and quickly, if he is to have any chance of taking down world No 1 Novak Djokovic.
Despite an eye-catching ranking of No 17 in the world, Norrie was a liability during that most recent Davis Cup campaign. He lost both his singles matches in Manchester, against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka and France’s Ugo Humbert, to continue a form slump that began in midsummer. Now he has pulled out of the Paris Masters, the last Masters 1000 event of the season, in a belated admission that he has been red-lining his engine for too long.
“I have Davis Cup coming up and I wanted to be fresh and right in myself for that,” Norrie told reporters on Sunday. “I hurt my right knee in China and I thought it could get a bit worse.”
Asked if his exhaustion was more physical or mental, Norrie replied, “A bit of both. It kind of caught up with me. I lost a lot of close matches at the end of the season. Looking back, when I have taken rest I have come back stronger and better.”
A passionate rugby fan, Norrie stayed in Paris long enough to watch the Rugby World Cup final. (Djokovic and Roger Federer were also spotted in the stands.) Now he will head back to his base in Monaco – the tax haven that could almost field the world’s strongest Davis Cup team, except that none of its ball-playing residents were actually born there.
Asked whether he could remember the last time he had taken a proper holiday, Norrie took a moment before admitting that “I haven’t had a week away from tennis in quite a while.” He plans to spend a good chunk of his break swimming – the best way to maintain his awe-inspiring cardiovascular fitness without straining that sore knee.
Unless Norrie can score a career-best win over Djokovic in the Davis Cup quarter-final, Great Britain will be relying on their No 2 singles player to beat the Serbian equivalent, who will probably be world No 36 Laslo Djere.
A fit Evans would certainly have been handed that role. He has been a livewire lately in the GB shirt, winning five of his last six home matches in this competition. In his absence, captain Leon Smith will have to choose between ageing legend Andy Murray – who is due to face his personal nemesis Alex de Minaur in Paris on Monday after some indifferent recent results – and the exciting 21-year-old Jack Draper.
And then there is the question of the doubles. Last month, Evans combined successfully with his good friend Neal Skupski to seal Great Britain’s place at finals week. And while Skupski – the world’s fourth-ranked doubles specialist – is sure to play, the identity of his partner is less clear. Joe Salisbury has never really delivered on national duty, but he is clearly in form after winning the ATP 500 event in Vienna with his American partner Rajeev Ram.