The unassuming nature that’s masked Cameron Norrie’s rise to British No 1 was ripped off in a thrilling comeback victory that showed heart and desire in striking abundance. This was not quite the odyssey of leaping and thrashing Andy Murray has always made his signature, but there were tears of joy after Norrie saw off an inspired David Goffin in five tumultuous sets to become Britain’s first Wimbledon semi-finalist since Johanna Konta in 2017.
It was a match Norrie was expected to win against an opponent ranked 46 places below him, but as the relentless consistency that the 26-year-old had shown deserted him in the first and third sets, it appeared as though the occasion might overwhelm him. It would be rude to downplay Goffin’s role in the drama too. He reached the quarter-final stage three years ago only to be routed by Novak Djokovic and the Belgian seemed intent on securing that rematch as he bested Norrie at his own game, winning exhausting rallies and taking risks in the right moments.
This was a victory that beat back the shadow, but there were unavoidably shades of Murray to the way Norrie fought back here. As the match crept past three hours, he summoned all his remaining will to break Goffin’s own at 5-5 in the deciding set. Instead, it is he who will face Djokovic on Friday and although that hurdle may prove too great, this was the sort of performance that will live long in the memory.
The emotions at the end were far removed from how the struggle began. Goffin was making the task of capitalising on Norrie’s mistakes look simply, inflicting a wave of pressure. That added intent proved the difference during an edgy first set in which Norrie made nine unforced errors – against Steve Johnson in the fourth round, the Briton made just 14 in the entire match. It was one such errant forehand that cost him at 3-2 in the first set, spurning the chance to close out the game before surrendering the break as Goffin’s superiority in the rallies told. The Belgian rapidly held serve to love to consolidate the break and took the first set 6-3 without ever being greatly troubled.
Norrie was flat and out of sorts but a tremendous lob from the baseline ignited a similarly subdued crowd. He saved one break point and pumped a fist but he was weathering a storm rather than stirring one of his own. At 2-2, a double fault was followed by uncharacteristic errors on either side but he delved deep into his well of spirit and somehow avoided the break. It was always an uphill struggle, though, with Goffin winning long rallies that often lasted more than 20 shots, and history repeated itself in Norrie’s next service game as he found himself 0-40 down. This time, there would be no crawling out of the abyss as a backhand winner sealed the break at the first opportunity.
If it felt as though defeat was already beckoning, it disregarded the trials Norrie had already overcome to enter this fortnight as the ninth seed. Goffin finally wavered at 4-3 and a double-fault handed back the break rather meekly before Norrie found an extra edge to hold serve after being dragged to deuce yet again. With Goffin serving to stay in the set, Norrie finally stamped his authority on their rallies, driving forehands deep into the court and the Belgian couldn’t withstand the pressure, ceding the set 7-5.
And yet, having levelled the match, it was as though a knife had ripped through Norrie’s sails. He didn’t just lose speed or momentum, he appeared destined to sink himself, winning just two of the next 18 points as Goffin raced into a 4-0 lead. When Norrie did manage to get one of the breaks back, he immediately made it redundant by blazing a simple forehand way beyond the baseline as he struggled to retain any rhythm. Goffin closed out the set 6-2 and the fuel for another fightback seemed in short supply.
It was when Norrie took more risks – an approach to which he often feels diametrically opposed – that he had the most success. He forced one break point opportunity at 3-2 in the fourth but Goffin rose to it well, launching himself into a low percentage backhand down the line and following it up with a smash to avert the danger. But Norrie maintained the pressure, twice leaning on a wicked forehand drop shot to hold serve and carved out another chance to break at 4-3. A hopeful challenge after a Goffin ace saw the serve ruled out by millimetres and Norrie rallied the crowd, attempting to feed off their encouragement. As the game stretched into its tenth minute, Goffin’s will finally dissolved, a forehand dove into the net and Norrie broke to take the match into a deciding set.
The tension became strained as both players felt a semi-final within touching distance. Norrie saved a break point in his opening service game and offered another fist pump after holding serve while Goffin berated himself after every missed chance. Every game became a marathon of nerves but it was Goffin who seemed to be deprived of some of his earlier edge and after Norrie held to love to make it 3-3, it felt as though the momentum had turned. It wasn’t until 5-5 but finally Goffin gave in, broken to love, and although it would hardly be easy, Norrie held serve to haul himself over the line in what will go down as the best victory of his career, so far.