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In the end, fitness and fighting spirit were not enough, against sheer class. Cameron Norrie tried so hard to run Roger Federer off Centre Court with his phenomenal fitness and pace – and did produce one of the performances of his career.
But Federer, even with his 40th birthday fast approaching in August, and even after two knee operations and a shaky start to this Wimbledon, is still in another league – and the great Swiss legend’s 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win on Centre Court proved that he is not finished just yet.
British No 2 Norrie has had a superb year, with 31 wins and a rise in his ranking to 34. Against eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer he fought to the very end and took a set off the 20-time Grand Slam winner. But class tells.
Federer has not been looking his best this tournament – he was struggling in the first round until opponent Adrian Mannarino pulled out with injury – but ominously, he looks to be gradually finding his rhythm.
He said: “That win meant a lot. I played a good match – but credit to Cam for pushing me.
“It’s a reference point. If I can beat somebody of Cam’s level, it’s not just a guy that can play good on the day. He’s a good player.
“I had a really excellent attitude, it was one of the first times I felt at peace out there, a sort of tranquility.”
Norrie made an awful start, with three double faults in his very first service game, but he recovered well, as expected from a man who ran 10,000 kilometres every day during the first lockdown.
At one point, a Norrie first serve hit a boy in the crowd in the face, and the 25 year old presented him with his towel to help comfort the youngster.
The pressure on Norrie right from the start was relentless, but the South African-born battler coped well until he cracked in the seventh game, and that was the first set gone. It was a similar story in the second, only this time he crumbled in the third.
Minutes before Norrie took the court, Emma Raducanu had given British tennis its best boost of the year with her spectacular win over Sorana Cirstea – but the Centre Court still loves Federer, so the cheers were almost equal.
Two sets down, Norrie needed to regroup, and he held his nerve superbly to lead 4-3, then saved two break points to somehow lead 6-5. Suddenly, he broke Federer to love – and incredibly, from an apparently hopeless position, he was into a fourth set. It was a brilliant fightback, as Norrie tried to rev the crowd up.
Another damaging double fault at 2-2 in the fourth set looked costly – but the indefatigable Norrie broke back to level at 3-3. Federer pounced on another break point to lead 5-4 – and there was no way back.
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Norrie said: “I was disappointed with my level, I gave away a few free points. The first two sets I didn’t serve that well.
“It was amazing to play against Roger. But I’m disappointed I was not at the level I have been playing at.
“It was definitely not the level I played the round before. But it was tough – he came out very aggressive.
“He was too good for me. I’m happy with my progression – just not so much today.”
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