It has been a surprising ten days at Indian Wells for who would have predicted at the start, that Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili would be contesting the final of the BNP Paribas Masters this year?
I'm looking forward to the match tomorrow and really looking forward to going out and enjoying it again, Cameron Norrie
But that has proved to be the case with all the marquee players, namely Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and other top ten players not living up to their expectations to fall by the wayside.
That is not to say that Norrie and Basilashvili didn’t deserve to be in the final, Far from it. Both fought their way through taking full advantage of the opportunities which came their way.
In the semi-finals Norrie dominated Medvedev’s conqueror, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, 6-2 6-4 while Basilashvili, who ousted Tsitsipas, clinched his place by defeating home favourite Taylor Fritz 7-6(5) 6-3.
Norrie secured his place, opening the day’s singles schedule on Court 1, by immediately taking his game to the Bulgarian with some strong serving, blasting four aces and striking a number of precision forehands and backhands and never allowing Dimitrov to get a foothold in the game.
He was in control throughout the 87-minute contest, much like his quarter-final victory over Diego Schwartzman whom he annihilated for the loss of just two games.
His latest win, the 46th of the season, makes him the first British finalist since Andy Murray in 2009, and the third in recent history behind Tim Henman (2002 and 2004) and Greg Rusedski (1998). Neither of the three were able to lift the trophy.
“I am so happy,” the 26-year-old Norrie said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t bring his best today.
“I was very solid. I went a lot to his backhand (and) he was getting frustrated with that. I managed to serve well and in the big moments I executed when I needed to.
“I’m looking forward to the match tomorrow and really looking forward to going out and enjoying it again,” he said.
His first and only title to date was won in Los Cabos earlier this year when he finally broke a string of losing finals at Estoril, Lyon and London this season.
“I’ve had some opportunities there to make the second week of a (grand) slam, but it’s not gone my way,” said Norrie who has never gone past the third round of a major. “It’s all been great learning for me.
“Hopefully with these results I can put myself in a higher seeding and maybe have some more chances.”
The 29-year-old Dimitrov, a former world No.3 who, on reaching the last four thanks to his experience and triumphs this week over top 10 seeded players, had become the title favourite, was certainly showing some signs of fatigue despite having had a day of rest.
Norrie, at 26 the highest ranked player in the last four, easily won the first set by breaking Dimitrov on three of the Bulgarian’s four service games. He then got the early break in the second which he held to pocket the match on the first match point when Dimitrov struck a backhand into the net.
In Basilashvili, Norrie will have to combat against a different player who uses his power to great effect.
Seeded 29, eight places behind the Briton, the Georgian is chasing his third title of the season – following his successes in Doha and Munich this year – and the sixth of his career.
He secured his place in the title match with a powerful forehand on his fourth match point having overcome Fritz in the seventh game of the second set after snatching the evenly matched opener on the tie-break and saving three set points.
“It is an unbelievable feeling,” the 29-year-old Basilashvili said after the 104-minute contest. “I am super happy. I was nervous and stressed. I got very tight, but I just tried to focus on the game.
“When you focus, the stress goes away. I know I can play good tennis I just have to not get too tight.”
The pair, playing in the biggest match of their careers, should provide an interesting final.