Cameron Norrie gave Centre Court cause to dream before his brilliant Wimbledon run came to an end with a semi-final loss to defending champion Novak Djokovic.
The British number one, who had never previously been past the third round of a grand slam, had taken full advantage of a favourable draw to become just the fourth home player in the Open era to make the last four in the men’s singles here.
But trying to beat Djokovic, who has not lost a match at Wimbledon since 2017, was a completely different challenge and, although Norrie made a superb start, the top seed hit back emphatically to win 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 and set up a mouth-watering final against Nick Kyrgios on Sunday.
In extending his run of successive grass-court victories to 27, six-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic becomes the first man to reach 32 grand slam finals, while he has only lost one of his last 19 slam semi-finals.
Norrie will undoubtedly be disappointed that he could not make a first slam final but the ninth seed has shown that he fully belongs with the world’s best and that he can have more chances in the future.
Djokovic has won at least one grand slam title – and more often than not two or three – each year since 2010 barring 2017, when he was dogged by elbow problems.
He arrived at Wimbledon, though, knowing this was likely to be his final chance of the season after his deportation from Australia and quarter-final loss at the French Open, and with a Covid-19 vaccination certificate still a requirement of entry into the United States.
This was therefore a huge match despite all the Serbian’s experience, and it was certainly he who seemed the more nervous in the early stages.
A huge roar erupted when Norrie, who had taken just three games in their only previous meeting last year, won the first point against serve, and the British number one greeted his opening break with a leaping pump of the fist.
It was comically premature but also entirely understandable on the biggest day in the 26-year-old’s career.
Djokovic did not react in anything like the same way when he immediately retrieved the break but the top seed was unable to settle, his normally watertight groundstrokes flying long or into the net.
Norrie has been unflappable throughout this run, embracing his suddenly elevated profile rather than feeling cowed by home pressure, and he was certainly rising to the occasion on the biggest stage of all.
He made sure he took advantage of Djokovic’s nerves, using his unusually flat double-handed backhand to rush his opponent while landing several blows with his heavy forehand.
The crowd were in disbelief as Norrie won five games in a row to clinch the opening set but the early signs in the second were that Djokovic had steadied.
The pressure was growing as Norrie saved break points in the fourth and sixth games and a volley missed from right on top of the net at 3-4 was the momentary lapse that Djokovic needed to seize the initiative.
Unlike Jannik Sinner, who led Djokovic by two sets to love in the quarter-final, Norrie does not possess a big weapon and, with the defending champion now purring from the baseline, it was difficult for the British number one to find a chink of light.
He was being pushed well behind the baseline and the sort of errors he simply could not afford to make were creeping in.
Another break of serve to start the fourth set put Djokovic a step closer and, although Norrie fought manfully to stay in touch, earning huge applause when he saved four break points in the fifth game, the Serbian’s serve kept him out of reach.
After a final unreturnable serve on match point, Djokovic turned towards a section of spectators who had been calling out and let fly with a verbal volley, earning a chorus of boos, before celebrating reaching an eighth Wimbledon final.
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