With his opponent in top form, rattling off winners left and right, Cam Norrie’s only option was to weather the storm Sunday in Indian Wells. Eventually, the Nikoloz Basilashvili thunderbolts quieted down and Norrie was there to take advantage.
Steady tennis won out, as Norrie outlasted Basilashvili to take home the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles title 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
For Norrie, as it would’ve been for Basilashvili, this marks the biggest win of his career and the biggest payday at $1,209,730. It was the first Masters 1000 final for both players, and, remarkably neither had ever even won a match in this event until this year.
He also made a bit of history, becoming the first British man to win at Indian Wells. Andy Murray (2009), Tim Henman (2002, 2004) and Greg Rusedski (1998) all made the final but lost.
“If you’d have told me I would win before the tournament started, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Norrie said. “It’s amazing. I can’t put it into words, I’m still taking in all of the emotions of the match right now.”
Despite his disbelief, Norrie carried over the calm with which he played into his post-match celebration. A modest raising of the arms to the sky and a glance heavenward before returning to his chair to await the trophy presentation, during which he apologized to Basilashvili for coming out on top.
When the new world rankings come out Monday, Norrie will be No. 16, his highest ranking ever and his first time inside the Top 20. He also will become the top-ranked British player, passing Daniel Evans.
While neither player may have been a household name in the tennis world yet, both were having excellent years on tour.
Norrie, in fact, was in his sixth ATP championship match this year, tying Novak Djokovic for the most on tour. He is now 2-4 in those matches, which includes a loss in the championship of the San Diego tournament that preceded the BNP Paribas Open. His win came at Los Cabos in Mexico in August.
“I’ve been really enjoying my tennis and competing in the big moments this year,” Norrie said. “I’m just really pleased with how I handled the occasion. I know I’ve lost a number of finals this year, but I’m glad I got the big one today.”
Basilashvili has won twice on tour this year, in Doha and Munich.
On Sunday, patience was a virtue as the 26-year-old Norrie started to play his best tennis in the middle of the second set at the same time the 29-year-old Basilashvili started getting wild with his powerful groundstrokes.
With the second set on serve at 5-4 and Basilashvili serving, Norrie came up with a bit of magic. He hit a beautiful winning lob on the first point, and an amazing return-of-serve winner to go up 30-0. Perhaps rattled, Basilashvili hit back-to-back unforced errors, and all of a sudden the second set was Norrie’s.
With the momentum see-saw clearly tipping in Norrie’s favor, he picked up an early break in the third set and kept Basilashvili at arm’s length the rest of the way.
“For a stage, he hit so many winners, and it was tough to get some confidence on my rallies because the rallies were really short and he was blasting winners,” Norrie said. “When I made a couple of good shots in that 5-4 game of the second set, it gave me a lot of confidence, and I was able to find my feet again and start moving again.”
Norrie has moved around a lot in his life. He was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand, spent his teen years in Great Britain and then attended Texas Christian University.
There’s no doubt, Norrie is one of the longer shots to win this event.
Here are some reasons why it would have been difficult to predict Norrie to win this event.
Norrie was 0-2 in the main draw at Indian Wells heading into this year.
Norrie is the No. 21 seed here. No men’s player seeded outside the top 20 has won here since unseeded Alex Corretja in 2000.
Norrie is ranked No. 26 in the world. Only three other players outside the top 25 have won this event, interestingly all three were ranked No. 26: Ivan Ljubicic (2010), Corretja (2000) and Jim Courier (1991).
He is only the fifth left-hander to win this event and only the second in the last 23 years. Rafael Nadal won in 2007, 2009, 2013. Marcelo Rios (1998), Jimmy Connors (1976, 1981, 1984) and Roscoe Tanner (1978, 1979) are the others.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com.