Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie defeats Rafael Nadal in United Cup to claim ‘career-best win’
Cameron Norrie capped a phenomenal 2022 on New Year’s Eve by securing a seismic “career-best win” over Rafael Nadal – his first in five attempts.
Norrie continued Great Britain’s impressive run in the United Cup by securing the first of two rubber victories against Spain – putting the team one win away from qualifying for the tournament finals. He also overcame a massive personal hurdle in doing so.
British No 1 Norrie previously always struggled against 22-time major champion Nadal and had failed to clinch even a set in their four other encounters.
But with just hours left of the year and in front of a packed-out crowd at Sydney’s 10,500-seater Ken Rosewall Arena, Norrie proved why he is now a contender at the very top of the sport. He found his way back from a set down to better Nadal, clinching his third win of the year against a top 5 opponent.
“I think it was, [my best ever win]. Especially on ranking and beating a guy like Rafa as the competitor that he is, I know it’s his first match of the year, but it was a sick win,” Norrie, 27, said afterwards. “He absolutely chopped me the last four times I played him. Nice to get him once now. I really played well and held my nerve throughout the match. Huge to get through that one and finally beat him. Great way to end the year for me.”
Norrie’s 2022 highlights included two titles, four finals and reaching the Wimbledon semi-final for the first time. With the 2023 season barely underway, he can already tick off a win against one of the sport’s greats – a massive confidence boost ahead of the Australian Open which begins on January 16.
World No 2 Nadal made a strong start on Saturday by winning the first set but was often on the back foot, pushed behind the baseline by Norrie, and lacked accuracy on his serve.
With the help of British team captain Tim Henman in his corner, as well as his coach Facundo Lugones, Norrie took his opportunities to break the Spaniard’s serve twice and nabbed the win 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The win would not have been possible without the inaugural United Cup, which is being held across three cities in Australia. While the usual ATP 250 and 500 events will be available to players ahead of the Australian Open, going head-to-head with a player of Nadal’s calibre at this stage of the season would usually be unlikely for Norrie. But with the United Cup, a mixed-team tournament which pits tennis nations against each other, he was guaranteed a go up against the top male player from each team Britain was drawn against.
As well as the win over Nadal, he also beat Australia’s Alex de Minaur – a former top 20 player – in Britain’s first match win of the United Cup earlier in the week. If the team qualifies for next week’s finals, Norrie will face more top talents in what would serve as perfect preparation for the first major of the year.
He partly credited playing exhibition matches during the brief tennis off-season – including a controversial appearance in Saudi Arabia where he beat both Nick Kyrgios and world No 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas – for his on-court sharpness. “I’ve had a really good off-season, played a lot of matches, and I felt like I was finding good depth in my shots and dictating the play.
“The biggest thing with these guys [is] you have to have the belief to beat them. Tim was telling me the whole match, ‘Look, you’re playing better than him, you’re looking good in the rallies. You can do it, you can beat this guy’. Tim has won a lot of big matches, he’s actually played Rafa a couple times. It was obviously huge to have him and the rest of the team behind me.”
Though the United Cup got off to a shaky start earlier this week, when home favourite Kyrgios pulled out through injury at the last minute, tennis legend Nadal’s arrival on Saturday saw the atmosphere at the Olympic Park crank up a gear.
While the loss to Norrie will sting, it was still only Nadal’s first match of the Australian swing where he will attempt to defend his title in Melbourne later this month.
Nadal, 36, famously began 2022 in remarkable form, winning both the Australian Open and Roland Garros, but he struggled with injury in the second half of the season.
He appeared upbeat post-match on Saturday and said the loss “was not a disaster at all”, adding: “I think there is a way to improve, but I have time before the Australian Open starts in two weeks.”
Before that, Nadal will return for Spain in the mixed doubles on Sunday for the fifth and final rubber against Britain, when he and partner Paula Badosa will face Dan Evans and Harriet Dart.
The match could well be over by then though, as Britain are one win away from victory thanks to Norrie’s result and 145th-ranked Katie Swan’s unlikely win over Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Saturday.
Parrizas Diaz, who is ranked 70th, was the major favourite and won the first set comprehensively, but Swan found a new level to get herself back on even terms and then stormed to one of the finest wins of her career, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2.