The fight that carried Cameron Norrie to the third round of a slam for the first time drained from his tired body at the US Open on Friday as the talented young Spaniard, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, won 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 43 minutes.
When Norrie double-faulted to go 1-5 down in the fourth, struggling with a worsening eye problem, there was sad resignation across his features after a week when he otherwise distinguished himself. When he framed the last shot of the match, his conqueror could barely contain his joy.
There would be few more cosmopolitan match-ups in the tournament. Davidovich Fokina, as his double surname suggests, brings genes from various backgrounds, none of them wholly Spanish, although he was born in Malaga, lives near Marbella and has trained up and down the Spanish coast with Novak Djokovic. His part-Swedish father, who boxed in Russia and was adamant Alejandro would earn a living as a tennis player, was thrilled to see him win the boys’ title at Wimbledon three years ago without dropping a set. The 21-year-old prodigy kept his Russian mother’s name, Fokina, after his parents divorced.
At least Norrie – the South-African-born son of a Welsh mother and Scottish father, raised in New Zealand and now living in London – would know where his opponent was coming from, so to speak.
When they got down to business on Court 5 – the temporary home of the small British contingent – they exchanged breaks within a quarter of an hour, but it was Norrie who was taking longer to settle. He did heroically well to grind out a five-setter in the opening round against the ninth seed, Diego Schwartzman, and stepped it up a gear against his compatriot, Federico Coria, in three sets in round two. So there was good recent history to call on.
Although Norrie’s serve was firing, he was pushing too hard for winners and the errors mounted. He needed a kind net clip to help him save his serve in the ninth game, then worked his way to within two points of taking the first set on his opponent’s serve, but Davidovich Fokina scraped a hold and Norrie’s forehand malfunctioned to his cost in the tie-break.
Norrie had been searingly honest about his level after his first two contrasting matches, admitting it was not quite where it should be, although he was happy with his mindset and his conditioning. Now his core tennis was under serious pressure.
The Spaniard was not exactly “en fuego”, but he was doing enough and had lost only 13 points on serve. Norrie came to life in the second, however, although there were some anxious moments when he was serving out. He overcooked a forehand, butchered a volley then eventually clinched it to level after an hour and 40 minutes.
Five-setters suit his grinding style and Davidovich Fokina’s cultured strokes were paying a smaller dividend in the tough exchanges at the start of the third. However, his serve disintegrated and he was a set down.
Norrie, who had earlier shanked a couple of shots and complained of “a vision thing” to the umpire after she handed him a violation for an audible obscenity (that few in the empty surroundings could hear) did not seem comfortable.
Davidovich Fokina cruised to 3-0 in the fourth and, after two-and-a-half hours, the match was his to lose, as he stretched his run of points to 32 from the previous 42. Norrie interrupted the flow, holding to love in the fourth game, but he was struggling. The quick end was almost merciful.