Cameron Norrie reached the third round of a third consecutive grand slam tournament with a gritty victory against Lloyd Harris.
It continued what has been a superbly consistent run of form since the tour resumed last summer and the reward for the British No 2’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory was another meeting with Rafael Nadal, who beat home hope Richard Gasquet in straight sets.
Norrie gave a good account of himself against the 20-times grand slam champion in the third round of the Australian Open in February before losing against the clay master in Barcelona. Given the stage and circumstance, Norrie produced one of his best performances of a stellar year. After one loose service game early in the first set, he thoroughly outplayed Harris until the end, displaying a consistently high level across the four sets with minimal dips.
“I think I’ve been very consistent and kept the momentum with me and not really let too many little things throw me off there,” said Norrie of his general improvement. “I’ve been pretty dead set on keep improving, keep going, and keep bringing my level every day.”
Nadal, who became the first player to record 17 wins against an opponent without defeat as he outplayed his old contemporary Gasquet once again. Nadal won 6-0, 7-5, 6-2 on his 35th birthday for his 102nd win at Roland Garros and his first in the vapid, empty night session introduced this year.
Whatever happens on Saturday, Norrie may already have done enough to break into the top 40 for the first time, which would be entirely merited.
If Roger Federer is at Roland Garros to build his match toughness and to test his limits early in his comeback, then it is hard to think of a more ideal outcome than 2hr 35min of tense matchplay on Thursday afternoon. After riding out ample momentum swings and a third set tipping point, he reached the third round of Roland Garros with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Marin Cilic.
“I had a really good game,” he said in his post-match interview. “I surprised myself a little. I didn’t think I could play at this level for two hours 30 minutes. The level was high. There were some very good moments, especially in the tie-break. I have some energy left, I have reserves.”
Federer’s surprise reflects this unusual period for him. After so few matches over the past 16 months, he is playing with minimal expectations at a tournament he does not expect to win.
Low expectations can engender uninhibited hitting, but how Federer would manage his level across a tense best of five sets match was still unknown. The first set hosted Federer’s most fluid period of play since his return as he stroked winners from both wings at will and escaped the first set with just six unforced errors.
Yet it was how he reacted later on that most pleased him. Federer’s level dropped in the second set as Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion who is now ranked No 47 in the world and has reached just two tour quarter-finals over the past year, stood up to the moment, relentlessly attacked Federer’s backhand and served efficiently for two sets.
Federer was, however, admirably tolerant of his own mistakes. He led by a break, with a point to move up a double break, only for Cilic to pull him back from 1-3 down to lead 4-3. The third set ended with an exhibition of tremendous serving from both. They combined for six love service games in a row and only one of the final 35 points of the set went against the server. It was a big one – Cilic who blinked and double-faulted in the tie-break.
After Federer held his nerve tremendously in just his second tiebreak since January 2020, he elevated his level and Cilic’s considerable resistance crumbled. There are still plenty of steps to take – his knee is still a work in progress with every match a new opportunity to garner more information.
What Federer may not have missed is how much time and energy is wasted on petty arguments over rules in this sport. Cilic appeared to complain about Federer taking too long with the towel when he was prepared to serve. Shortly after, Federer received a time violation warning and he spent long minutes arguing with the umpire, Emmanuel Joseph, and then he even tried to engage Cilic himself. To his credit, Cilic did not let the moment distract him and he eventually took the second set with a second break.
In the third round, Federer will face the talented lefty Dominik Koepfer, another step up in quality and another step into the unknown as he looks to see how his game reacts to what the ATP tour in 2021 can throw at him. But here he is, 39 years old and returning from two knee surgeries yet still finding his way out with a win.
Novak Djokovic also reached the third round with an easy 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over Pablo Cuevas. A measure of Djokovic’s level is that Cuevas played a quality match himself, finishing with 31 winners to 26 unforced errors and being a significant part of numerous intense, creative and prolonged exchanges that seemed to cover every grain of clay. And yet, in the end he had only nine games to show for his efforts across three sets. Djokovic will face the diminutive Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis next.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray will not be competing at the Nottingham Challenger next week. He has been practising at Wimbledon and he is aiming for a singles return at Queen’s. Naomi Osaka has also withdrawn from the Berlin WTA event due to begin 14 June. She is still yet to decide whether she will return to Europe for the grass season.