The BNP Paribas Open men’s final was won Sunday by a ground-stroke machine named Cameron Norrie. He is actually a human being who lives in London and played college tennis at Texas Christian.
His opponent was Nikoloz Basilashvili of the country of Georgia, who hit long on match point and looked relieved that he wouldn’t have to do this anymore. The score was 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, and Norrie, unheralded but in his sixth final this year, became the first Brit to win this prestigious Indian Wells title.
Considering that the likes of Tim Henman and Andy Murray have been in the mix here many years, that’s saying something special.
In Basilashvili’s post-match interview after he won his semifinal match Saturday, he remarked that “Norrie is not nice to play from the baseline.”
He obviously knew. They had played before and Norrie had won, 6-0, 6-3. It was closer Sunday, but there was no mistaking that everything Basilashvili threw at Norrie, Norrie would return.
Norrie is left-handed, his style a little quirky, but his intent on every point obvious: hit the ball back one time more than the other guy.
Norrie won $1,209,730 with his human backboard win, and he will be No. 16 in the world when new rankings come out Monday.
The match, certainly showcasing fine baseline skills, still probably took a backseat in style points and spectator excitement to the women’s singles, Paula Badosa beating Victoria Azarenka, which preceded it on center court.
That one might rank as the top match this year on the women’s tour and might inspire thousands of players to play and compete at a higher level.
Norrie and Basilashvili might inspire youngsters to pack up a basket of tennis balls and go find a wall to hit against.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.