Two of the surprise packages of this clay-court season have been British – initially Dan Evans, who made a deep run in Monte Carlo, and more lately Cameron Norrie, who played his second final in three weeks on Sunday.
Unfortunately, Norrie wasn’t able to land a maiden ATP title in Lyon. But then he was up against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has been the dominant force of 2021 outside the slams, and now stands at No 1 in the table of most rankings points gained since January 1.
Nevertheless, it had been a hugely creditable effort for Norrie to go this far, especially when you consider that he took out top seed Dominic Thiem on Thursday, and then trounced big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov in Saturday’s semi-final, losing only two games in the process.
Norrie has come to clay late in his career, but it feels like this is developing into his favourite surface. He has one of the heaviest left-handed forehands in the game, loaded with top-spin, and uses it like a miniature version of Rafael Nadal. The result has been a tally of 14 wins and only four losses since he began his European clay-court swing in Barcelona.
So while the French Open, which starts next Sunday, has traditionally been a graveyard of British hopes, there are reasons to hope that this year’s event could deliver some more positive results.
Norrie’s previous final in Estoril had been a nervewracking affair which he eventually lost on a deciding-set tie-break to the more experienced Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Sunday was more straightforward for Tsitsipas, who needed only 69 minutes to hammer home a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
It was Tsitsipas’ second title of the clay-court sequence, after he won Monte Carlo in mid-April, taking out Evans in the semi-final along the way. He has become a serious contender to upset the establishment – specifically Nadal and Novak Djokovic – at Roland Garros over the next few weeks.
“I felt in good shape from the beginning of the tournament,” said Tsitsipas afterwards. “I am proud of today’s match, I knew it would be a difficult one against Cameron, who has been showing great tennis this week. He has been winning against good players and showing what the left hand can do on clay.
“It was not an easy match today. I had to handle the nerves and I am proud of my performance and the way I stayed focused towards my goal.”
On this year’s results, meanwhile, both Evans and Norrie stand among the world’s 20 most successful men. Evans is at No 16 and Norrie No 14. The next challenge for them both is to convert that ATP Tour form into a deep run at a major.