Norrie falls to Baena
Some defeats sting more than others, and Cameron Norrie is unlikely to forget his loss to Roberto Carballes Baena at the Estoril Open anytime soon
The British No.3, bidding to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP event for the first time, squandered three match-points before succumbing to his Spanish rival 5-7 6-2 7-6(1) after an intense and gruelling battle.
Norrie came tantalisingly close to scoring a significant victory, however he stumbled with the winning post in sight. It was a physical contest that tested the fitness of both competitors, and fatigue undoubtedly contributed to the Brit's eventual demise.
Victory over Baena would have secured Norrie a place inside the Top 100 for the first time, however he is now relying on other results going his way if he is to fulfil a career ambition next week.
Baena, ranked No.77 in the world, provided Rafael Nadal with arguably his sternest test of the clay-court season so far at the Barcelona Open last week. He took eight games off the ‘King of Clay’ and is a gritty competitor.
Norrie, who impressed during his Davis Cup debut for Great Britain against Spain in February, was the more assured performer in the early stages - and he romped into a 3-1 lead after a double-fault from his rival.
It was a lead he could not sustain, though, and he became embroiled in an almighty tussle for the first set. Lung-busting rallies were frequent as the pair slugged it out from the baseline, however it eventually went the way of the dogged Brit: 7-5.
Norrie held the advantage, but his momentum was halted in the second set. The Spaniard clung on to his serve after a testing second game before establishing control and dictating matters from the back of the court.
A decider was required, and Norrie struck the first blow. The Brit moved 3-1 ahead after executing a difficult high backhand-volley to perfection. It was a moment of inspiration from the 22-year-old, and he was soon on the cusp of a significant win.
Norrie had an opportunity to serve for the match while leading 5-3, but he was unable to apply the finishing touches. A rejuvenated Baena retrieved the break, however he immediately encountered trouble as he attempted to pull level at five apiece.
The Brit carved open a 0-40 scenario on his opponent’s delivery, yet still failed to get over the winning line. On his third match-point he netted a mid-court forehand that was makeable - and it proved to be a costly error.
The tenacious Spaniard managed to force a third set shootout, and the outcome was never in doubt from the moment he collected the first point.
It was a frustrating afternoon at the office for Norrie, but he departs Portugal safe in the knowledge that his place in the main draw of Roland Garros is secure.