Updated: May 1, 2021
Unseeded Cameron Norrie defeated the 2014 US Open Champion, Marin Cilic, in straight sets, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, to move into his second ATP tour final in Portugal. The 25-year-old British no. 2 is seeking his first career title, having finished runner-up at the Auckland International in 2019.
The semi-final match, which lasted just under two hours, epitomised why Marin Cilic has won only one Grand Slam in his career. The 32-year-old is a talented player with big weapons, but mentally weak and crumbles under pressure. The 6 ft 6 inch Croatian possess a formidable serve, but it has always let him down badly in the critical moments. This was aptly illustrated in the first set where he served 10 aces, but when it really mattered – on set point in the tie-break, on his serve – he double-faulted, to gift Norrie the first set.
Likewise in the second set, after initially withstanding intense pressure with some timely aces, he eventually capitulated, once again on his own serve, with the rest of his game disintegrating behind it, to hand the match to the world number 50 in straight sets.
In contrast, Cameron Norrie remained strong in the key moments, saving five of the six break points he faced, as well as overcoming a time violation caused by repeated ball toss checks as he struggled to deal with the tricky coastal wind.
The left-handed Norrie made a slow start against the former world no. 3, seeded six here, being broken in his first service game, but was soon handed the break back by a Cilic double fault. The pattern repeated itself in the tie-break when Cilic went up a mini-break after a Norrie double fault, but again, Norrie fought back to level, playing an excellent angled backhand cross court that dragged his opponent wide, a shot he used to great effect throughout the match. The tie-break then went with serve until Cilic erred with his double fault to go a set down.
Norrie, who had difficulties with his ball toss throughout the match, caused by the swirling breeze, double-faulted in the third game of the second set, to make it deuce. Yet another aborted ball toss led to the normally mild-mannered Cilic crying out, ‘oh, come on!’ in frustration, as his serve return preparation was disrupted once again.
Umpire Carlos Ramos intervened and gave Norrie a time violation for taking too long between first and second serves. Norrie went up to the chair and argued that he was allowed to take as long as required between serves, but the umpire asserted that it needed to be done in a timely manner. Norrie inevitably double-faulted to hand a break point opportunity to Cilic.
This was a crucial moment in the match, and Norrie could have easily cracked and given the initiative to his opponent, but he dug deep and stayed aggressive. A good first serve and excellent depth with his backhand in the rally gave him the point for deuce. This was followed by another angled backhand cross court that opened up the court for an easy winner, and he maintained his positive attitude in the rally in the next point to complete a gritty hold and edge ahead 2-1.
Norrie conjured up a break point of his own in the next game, but Cilic saved it with an ace. Norrie, though, continued to apply pressure on Cilic, who remained visibly irritated by Norrie’s ball toss issues, making three unforced errors out of frustration to find himself down 15-40. He saved the first with an ace, and followed it up with a good serve and forehand winner combination, to make it deuce. A couple more deuces later, another unforced error gave Norrie a third break point. A clever 198 kph serve made it a fourth deuce, and Cilic finally saved the longest game of the match with another trademark ace.
The ping-pong continued as it was subsequently Norrie’s turn to try and save two break points against him in his next service game. A miss-hit off Cilic’s racquet frame and the angled backhand cross court shot came to his rescue, and he, too, held with an ace for 4-3.
It looked like the match might be heading for another tie-break, but with Cilic serving second, he would potentially have to hold twice to make it happen. The first time, at 4-5, he held comfortably. Norrie then held his own serve to 30, putting the pressure back on to Cilic. On his opening point, a second serve was followed up with an unforced forehand error, but he atoned for it on the next point with a first serve and a forehand cross court winner to make it 15-15.
The pattern repeated: the bad – a double fault, followed by the good – an ace. 30-30. But then a first serve was negated by a very poor forehand error into the net from a good position, and it was match point to Norrie. If ever Cilic needed that first serve, it was now, but predictably the serve let him down. A painfully slow 127 kph serve was gleefully taken advantage of by Norrie, who hit a forehand down the line for a winner. It was break, and match, to Norrie, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, who also sportingly apologised to Cilic at the net for his ball toss problems.
Norrie has now won 18 tour matches this season, putting him joint-third with Jannik Sinner on the season-wins list, with Monte-Carlo Masters winner Stefanos Tsitsipas and runner-up Andrey Rublev, leading with 26 wins. Norrie will also be looking to do a titles double in Estoril, having won the doubles final with fellow-Brit Kyle Edmond in 2018.
Norrie will play the 7th seed, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, another left-hander, in Sunday’s final. The clay-court specialist defeated his fellow Spaniard and no. 8 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in straight sets 6-1, 6-4. The 33-year-old, who was playing his 21-year-old compatriot for the first time, twice dropped his service game early in both sets, before recovering to win.
Davidovich Fokina, the Wimbledon junior champion in 2017, is a big-hitter who can generate power off both wings, but was off his game today. He made a succession of unforced errors as he tried, and failed, to smash winners on almost every point against his more patient opponent, losing the first set easily 6-1, in under half an hour.
Although he came back briefly in the second set, breaking Ramos-Vinolas in the fourth game with a more patient approach, continuous errors, particularly on the forehand, and poor shot selection, cost him his serve in the seventh game. Further forehand errors gifted two more break points to the elder Spaniard, who took full advantage of a weak serve to break and go up 5-4. Davidovich Fokina raged against his racquet in anger, whacking it on the ground and breaking it, for which he inevitably received a code violation.
Ramos-Vinolas served out easily to win 6-1, 6-4 in 1 hour and 16 minutes, to reach his 10th career final, and he will be hoping for his third title on Sunday. He is currently ranked no. 46, but reached a career-high 17 in 2017, helped by a Masters 1000 final appearance in Monte-Carlo, defeating the then world no. 1 Andy Murray in the 3rd round after being 0-4 down in the deciding set.
Ramos-Vinolas leads Norrie 2-0 in the head to head, both on clay, so will possibly start favourite, although Norrie is the player in form going into the final. This fascinating duel of the southpaws could turn out to be a close one.