Cameron Norrie certainly never stopped trying. Even as game after game fell away and the match rushed to an increasingly unavoidable outcome, his footwork remained pristine, he continued to land as many returns as he could and he searched diligently for solutions.
But unlike for so much of the past 12 months, no solutions came. In just one hour, 42 minutes, Sebastian Korda dismantled Norrie, the 12th seed, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 in the first round of the Australian Open.
After a breakthrough year so memorable that his coach, Facundo Lugones, was named the ATP’s coach of the year, the defeat marked Norrie’s fourth loss of four in the 2022 season and his second consecutive grand slam first round defeat. While two of Norrie’s losses had been competitive defeats against higher ranked players, Norrie was confounded by how poor his showing was on Monday.
“Right now, I can’t,” he said after being asked if he knows why he was unable to find an acceptable level. “Just feeling good physically, I had a week off to prepare, prepared as well as I could, and just I was slow, I was missing routine backhands, which I never miss. I honestly can’t put a finger on it. I just need to get better and improve.”
One of the obvious factors, which Norrie stressed, was the quality of his opponent across the net. Korda is one of the toughest unseeded players in the draw and at 20 years old he has already reached the fourth round of two majors, finishing last year as runner up at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Korda plays with a distinctive style. He stands at 6ft 5in yet despite his stature his serve, although solid on Monday, is still a work in progress. He has earnt his keep in his young career due to his pristine, well-timed strokes that he can strike early, redirect to all parts of the court, and his skilful returning and net game behind them. He spent the match glued to the baseline and dictating until the end.
Having spent his entire professional career as the underdog and challenger against most top 100 players, it was always evident this sophomore season would mark a new challenge for Norrie. He will now, like many before him, have to adjust to the new reality of being and he is doing so after playing 81 matches in 2021. His year finished on 30 November after he emptied his tank in the midst of leading Great Britain in the Davis Cup and the fleeting time before the start of the season meant he postponed his pre-season until after his trip to Australia.
“I don’t know why I played the way I did today. I was feeling good physically, and, yeah, I played a lot of matches, but this is what we are paid to do and [it’s] just not good enough. Just need to raise my standards, practice, matches, and execute a lot better,” he said. Norrie will take a few days off, then he will start to prepare for his next event in Rotterdam, undertaking all of the physical work he had postponed after the season.
As Norrie departs Australia, the second day of the Australian Open will see a flurry of British action with Harriet Dart, Andy Murray, Heather Watson, Liam Broady and Emma Raducanu all starting their campaigns. In the evening session, Broady faces Nick Kyrgios in the first round. Kyrgios is now ranked 115th and he hasn’t yet competed in 2021 after withdrawing from his opening two events with asthma and then Covid, but as usual, he is one good serving day away from a great performance.
Later on Tuesday night, Emma Raducanu will headline Margaret Court Arena as she continues to find her feet after her own recent bout of Covid. Raducanu will face a fellow grand slam champion, Sloane Stephens, for the first time in her career and she will step onto the court looking to start her Australian Open career correctly.