Grigor Dimitrov and Iga Swiatek were among the day’s winners for their respective nations in contrasting circumstances, before Cameron Norrie ended an eventful 2022 with a long-awaited scalp: recovering from a set down to beat Rafael Nadal for the first time in five attempts, helping Great Britain take an early lead in their United Cup group clash against Spain.
Norrie notches big career scalp
Norrie bt. Nadal 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
- “I had to stay super patience, a super-physical match and I enjoyed it – huge to get through that one and finally beat him. He beat me easily the last few times, so it’s a great way to end the year for me,” Norrie says in post-match interview on court
- Britain’s highest-ranked tennis player moves up a place to world no. 13 with victory against world no. 2, who ended 2022 season with four defeats in his last five matches
British number one, Wimbledon semi-finalist Cameron Norrie, recovered from a set down and showed nerves of steel to overwhelm reigning Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal in a tense three-set tussle, giving Great Britain the initiative in their United Cup group vs. Spain.
The tenacious 27-year-old could be forgiven for thinking this encounter would follow the pattern that has unfolded in four previous meetings. Nadal beat him three times in five months last season, including at the Australian Open and later on his hallowed Roland Garros clay.
Norrie proved a competitive adversary each time, but was unable to even take a set off the legendary Spaniard across the 10 they had played. The same transpired at the Acapulco final in late February, but in a team setting here, it proved a fifth time lucky for the Brit – he won two.
Nadal started well and won 15/18 points behind his first serve in the opening set, though serving a trio of aces belied a dwindling first serve percentage (51% to Norrie’s 73%). Those worrying numbers showed themselves later, as patchy serving came back to bite him at the wrong time.
Both held serve fairly comfortably to start set two, before Nadal suddenly found himself facing a trio of break points at 2-3 with scoreboard pressure to boot.
Norrie’s relentless running and ability to prolong rallies didn’t help his cause, though an errant drop shot into the net and excellent return of serve – not the last time either – presented Cam with a chance he’d eventually take.
He needed five break points to do so, but watched as Nadal inadvertently sprayed a two-handed return into the sky. 4-2 up, a deciding set neared.
Norrie avoided being broken straight back in the next game, then Nadal fended off two set points to ask the Brit a serve it out question that many can’t muster. Norrie managed, and after a comfort break for both, the Ken Rosewall Arena crowd were treated to more compelling tennis.
Nadal’s serving took a noticeable dip, evidenced by a pair of double-faults to start the third, and you were left wondering which way this would turn.
Although not the most emotive on court, Norrie wasn’t nerveless and could’ve pondered whether he would later rue a missed break point chance at 2-1.
Instead, he held firm as the pro-Nadal crowd encouraged their man to reclaim the upper hand and continued playing the disruptive tennis which put the pair back on level terms earlier.
A forehand up-the-line winner helped him break the Nadal serve at 3-2, and he saved three break back opportunities in the next two service games to stay ahead.
Making the old man move, mixing aggression with great touch at the net and firing off deep returns, Norrie was ultimately a worthy winner. As expected, it took considerable effort to get there and finish the job.
Widely criticised for agreeing to play in a special Saudi Arabia event earlier this month, the Wimbledon semi-finalist insisted it would help his own preparations to play alongside fellow top players ahead of the Australian summer swing as he targeted a maiden Grand Slam title.
His ambitious goal was laughed at on social media. Naturally, he’ll hope this win – a big one for him personally – is the springboard to further success over the coming month, rather than the apex of what has been another impressive year for the 27-year-old. Not a bad way to end 2022.
Elsewhere on Day 3…
Sporting a new career-high ranking, Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia was a 6-4, 6-2 winner against Norway’s Malene Helgo in the day’s early encounter.
The 26-year-old, world no. 15, became the first woman to secure two United Cup victories – and was later followed by Britain’s 23-year-old Katie Swan – imposing herself from the very first game, earning two break point opportunities on Helgo’s serve.
Although it took her a further four chances (all in the same game) to break, the Brazilian did so and never looked back. She raced to a 4-0 second set lead, en route to a straight-sets result in her final match of the year.
Wimbledon quarterfinalist Marie Bouzkova bounced back from her loss against Madison Keys with a hard-fought victory to inflict defeat (6-2, 7-5) onto Jule Niemeier’s on the 23-year-old German’s first tournament appearance. Her next opponent? The aforementioned American.
World number one Iga Swiatek reeled off yet another dominant set of tennis en route to a comfortable, comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 scoreline against Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva – who never had an opportunity to settle on serve and paid the price for not being able to replicate that.
Donna Vekic, who lost to Swiatek in San Diego two months ago, served up a 21-minute bagel during her win over Argentina’s Maria Lourdes Carle (6-0, 6-4) as Croatia went perfect on the day.
Borna Coric, who stunned critics with his Cincinnati title in August, was unsurprisingly made to work for a 7-5, 6-4 win over Francisco Cerundolo in a contest packed with momentum swings.
Speaking of momentum swings, Goffin-Dimitrov didn’t disappoint.
The latter, who eventually earned a 6-4, 7-5 win, didn’t make things easy for himself: serving 10 aces but also seven double-faults – Goffin rallied from 4-1 down to make set one interesting, before the second was even more gripping. If you haven’t, go and watch the highlights.
Overnight, the returning Alexander Zverev was upset by 21-year-old Czech Jiri Lehecka, who served well and fended off six of seven break points faced – stats which were in complete contrast to the Olympic champion – resulting in a 6-4, 6-2 scoreline.
Lehecka, a runner-up to Brandon Nakashima at the Next Gen Finals in Milan last month, has risen to world no. 76 as a result of this – earning more ranking points for beating a top-20 player.
Other singles results
Poland-Kazakhstan: Timofey Skatov bt. Daniel Michalski 7-6 (9-7), 6-2
Brazil-Norway: Felipe Meligeni Alves bt. Viktor Durasovic 6-3, 6-3
Belgium-Bulgaria: Alison van Uytvanck bt. Isabella Shinikova 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
Great Britain-Spain: Katie Swan bt. Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 3-6, 6-1, 6-2
United Cup ties for Sunday, January 1:
Germany vs Czech Republic
Brazil vs Norway
Belgium vs. Bulgaria
Poland vs Kazakhstan
Spain vs Great Britain
Croatia vs Argentina
All group games continued from today. The headline singles matches include Paula Badosa vs. Harriet Dart, Hubert Hurkacz vs. Alexander Bublik and Pablo Carrena Busta vs. Dan Evans.
What other tennis is on?
Adelaide 1 main draw begins tomorrow, with qualifying in the final stages – featuring a certain fiery Australian in 21-year-old hotshot Rinky Hijikata, remember him from the US Open?
Pune qualifying continues, with the draw announced earlier today. Marin Cilic and Botic van de Zandschulp are top seeds in India, though the tournament proper begins on Monday morning
Adelaide 1, a 500 event, begins with a bang to start 2023: a battle between two Slam champions – Garbine Muguruza vs. Bianca Andreescu – before Kaia Kanepi vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich
Auckland, a 250 event, has six qualifying matches left to complete – which features 2014 Wimbledon runner-up and the evergreen Sara Errani among other notable names
Picture source: Getty Images, screenshots via Tennis Channel broadcast