Cameron Norrie Jumped From the TCU Tennis Courts to Top 10 in the World
A Horned Frog legend has reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.
On Oct. 17, 2021, as a strong wind swirled, Cameron Norrie took center court in Indian Wells for the finals of the BNP Paribas Open. The 6-foot-2 lefthander was hardly the favorite in the Southern California desert in a tournament delayed seven months by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Norrie had spent the unexpected time off at his family’s home in New Zealand, running the equivalent of a 10K in hilly Auckland almost every day for two months.
He was in the best shape of his life for Indian Wells, which tennis fans consider the fifth major. In terms of prestige, the competition is nearly on par with the four grand slams: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Heading into the competition, Norrie was ranked No. 26 in the world.
He blazed through the tournament, defeating five opponents before the final round, where he was considered the underdog against Nikoloz Basilashvili, a power hitter from Tbilisi, Georgia.
Norrie started the match strong with his solid groundstrokes and trademark accuracy, but after a 3-1 lead, Basilashvili roared back, winning 10 of the next 11 points. For the first time during the tournament, Norrie dropped the opening set.
What Norrie did next was exactly what his coaches at TCU had come to expect. The then-26-year-old fought back with a forehand renowned for its topspin, which makes it hard to return. His serve likewise showed no mercy.
Norrie blasted shots at key points to take the second set 6-4, forcing a third. Norrie found his rhythm, impervious to the wind and the pressure.
After an hour and 49 minutes on the court, Norrie dominated the third set, taking it 6-1 to capture what was then the biggest win of his career.
In an on-court interview following the win, Norrie said, “I can’t really believe it. If you’d have told me I’d have won before the tournament started I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Linda Lawrence Cappel ’80 watched it all from the stands. She runs the pro shop by TCU’s outdoor courts and became something of a surrogate mother to Norrie after he arrived on campus in August 2014.
“Cameron has this kind of drive that doesn’t waver,” she said. “It’s hard to explain his magic.”
David Roditi ’96, TCU’s head men’s tennis coach, and Devin Bowen ’94, assistant coach, said they had an inkling Norrie might have the chops to go pro a few months after the future No. 1 Briton arrived in Fort Worth.
“He was determined, he could suffer, he could take a lot physically, could play all day, and he had another level of competitiveness altogether,” said Bowen, who like Roditi enjoyed success on the professional circuit before returning to his alma mater to coach.
“Cameron Norrie is a proper killer,” Bowen said.
“He really is,” Roditi agreed.
Norrie’s tennis journey began with his mother hitting balls to him in the driveway when he was 6. His microbiologist parents, Helen and David Norrie, both played squash in college and encouraged their son’s athletic pursuits, which included rugby, soccer and cricket.
Norrie debuted on the junior level in international tennis tournaments at age 13, though that year — 2009 — he lost in the first round of every tournament. At 15, he finished as runner-up in the New Zealand 18 & Under Indoor Championships. When he was 16, he won two junior international titles.
The Norrie family decided Cameron should move to the U.K. to train at the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Tennis Centre in southwest London. Starting in 2013, he lived with a host family and competed in junior Grand Slams at Roland Garros (home of the French Open) as well as at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He began representing Britain rather than New Zealand, a move that enabled him to qualify for more funding in the U.K. Training elite tennis players, who need coaching and trainers as well as mental fitness and nutritional support, is an expensive undertaking.
At 15, Norrie and a coach traveled around Europe for five months. Though he rose to No. 10 in the junior international rankings, he began to consider competing at the collegiate level. He talked to the head coach at the University of Michigan, where a fellow junior tennis player from New Zealand was on the roster.
But in the summer of 2014, the Michigan coach was fired. Norrie scoured the U.S. for different options.
Norrie visited TCU, said the campus was “wonderful” and Roditi “amazing.” He signed to TCU a week before the start of the semester.
In September 2014, Roditi announced that Bowen would return to TCU as assistant coach, a move that Norrie describes as making an indelible mark on his game.
“Devin has made a huge impact on my life and my career particularly in terms of work ethic,” said Norrie, who tried to lure Bowen to go on tour with him in 2017.
“The combination of both those guys is amazing,” Norrie said, describing Roditi and Bowen as perfect complements to each other.
“It was very special to be part of the TCU community and to have Devin and David lead me through making a lot of mistakes my freshman year and learning from them and then being able to use TCU as a base even now,” Norrie said. “I couldn’t have asked for two better coaches.”
Norrie flourished on the purple courts.
In the fall of his first year, he won the singles and doubles titles at the USTA/ITA Texas Regional Championships. He finished the 2014-15 season ranked 25th in the nation and garnered All-America honors in singles.
As a sophomore, he earned an at-large bid to the NCAA singles championships, becoming the first TCU men’s tennis player to advance to the singles final four.
By the time he was a junior, he’d risen to No. 1 in the national singles rankings. In the spring of 2017, he went undefeated in Big 12 play, notching a perfect 10-0 record in both singles and doubles.
“Cam Norrie is a good example of what college tennis can do for a player,” said Timothy Russell, CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. “In college they have a full team of people around them, not only coaches but trainers and nutritionists and mental fitness people.”
Norrie made another key contact at TCU in Facundo “Facu” Lugones ’16, who had been a high-ranking singles player in his native Argentina. Upon going pro following his junior year, Norrie asked his former teammate to be his coach.
“Cam has achieved so much, and a lot of that has to do with his time at TCU,” said Lugones, who in December was named Coach of the Year 2021 at the American Tennis Professionals Awards.
Norrie said he loved his TCU years — tennis and more. As a first-year student, he lived in Moncrief Hall, a source of fond memories and enduring friendships. He studied sociology and business while practicing, which NCAA rules limits to 20 hours a week, and competing all over the country.
He forged a special bond with Zoe, the black lab Cappel and her husband, Joe, a Fort Worth physician, adopted as a puppy not long after Norrie started school.
“I was in love with the dog and as a result became very close with Linda, who is an unbelievable person,” Norrie said.
Cappel serves as a team mother of sorts, often hosting functions at her Fort Worth home. (In March, Norrie requested Dr. Cappel’s signature fried ribs at an informal gathering of friends.)
“The day we brought Zoe home, I think we were having a team dinner or team meeting or something at the house, and there was Cameron on the floor with her,” Cappel said. “She’s 8 now and they are still like that, just loving each other.”
When Norrie turned pro, Roditi asked the couple if he could use their house as a home base. Professional tennis is almost never lucrative early on, and players have high expenses, including travel to tournaments and staff salaries. Renting an apartment doesn’t make sense for someone traveling 42 weeks a year.
Norrie moved his stuff into the Cappels’ spare bedroom.
“People say, ‘But wait, Linda, he’s making millions of dollars now,’ ” Cappel said. “But I tell them that he’s sticking around because he loves our dog and our pool and this city.”
Less than a year after leaving TCU, Norrie broke into the top 100 players in the world.
He kept climbing.
In early July 2021, Norrie faced Federer at Wimbledon. Then ranked No. 34 in the world, Norrie fought back from losses in the first two sets to take the third, 7-5. Despite the support of the British crowd for one of their own, Federer pulled out the win 6-4 in the fourth.
Afterward, the Swiss legend told reporters that he was “super relieved” by the outcome, describing the match as “a tough battle with Cam.”
A little less than four months later, Norrie would become an ATP Masters 1000 champion with his victory at Indian Wells. He was the first British man to claim the title.
Norrie enjoyed a smashing start to the 2022 season, defeating Reilly Opelka in late February to win Florida’s Delray Beach Open. A week later, he came in second at the Mexican Open in Acapulco, losing to Nadal in the finals.
In April, he had landed in the No. 10 slot among the best players in the world.
In late May, he defeated Slovakian Alex Molcan to win his second tour title of 2022 in Lyon, France. The victory was his first on a clay court.
In July, Norrie broke new career ground — and gained an international fanbase — by advancing to the semifinals at Wimbledon. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge cheered him on from the stands and tweeted their admiration for his skills on the grass courts.
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) July 5, 2022
Roditi said his former athlete’s ascent feels gratifying but so, too, does his continued ties to the TCU tennis program. The head coach keeps in regular touch with Norrie, who asks him about the current crop of players and watches the matches on TV when he can.
“It’s exciting for the players now to get to see him out on the court hitting,” said Roditi, who noted that he and the trainers welcome all tennis alumni back to TCU to practice and work out at the gym.
Standing on the purple courts after a training session, Norrie summed it up like this:
“Without TCU, I don’t know where I’d be.”