Cameron Norrie’s hopes of a first career win against Novak Djokovic were dashed in a feisty last-16 encounter at the Italian Open, with the Briton’s “attitude” criticised by the 22-time Grand Slam champion after the match.
In the third meeting between the pair, Norrie matched Djokovic for much of the encounter but eventually fell just short in a 6-3, 6-4 loss.
Things started frostily following a complaint by Norrie when Djokovic arrived 10 minutes late. It led to stern exchanges in the first set, and the animosity only grew when the Briton hit a smash into Djokovic’s left leg with his back turned in the second.
There was a worrying end to the match for Norrie a week-and-a-half out from the French Open when he needed treatment on his right hip late in the second set.
“It was a combination of things. From the beginning, he was doing all the things that were allowed,” Djokovic said of Norrie.
“He’s allowed to take a medical timeout. He’s allowed to hit a player. He’s allowed to say ‘come on’ in the face more or less every point from the first game. Those are the things we players know in the locker room isn’t fair play, it’s not how we treat each other.”
He added: “We practised with each other. He’s a very nice guy off the court so I don’t understand this kind of attitude on the court, to be honest.
“But it is what it is. He brought the fire and I responded to that. I’m not going to allow someone behaving like this just bending my head. I’m going to respond.”
Norrie’s aim to avoid a hat-trick of defeats diminished when he was broken in his opening service game of the match.
Djokovic immediately used the drop shot to good effect and dropped the pace of his groundstrokes, which gave Norrie little pace to work with and consistently led to unforced errors from his side of the court.
Having taken the first set in 40 minutes, the Serbian looked set to race away with the win as he broke early in the second set for a 2-1 lead only for Norrie to break back in the very next game, with his smash into Djokovic’s leg. It led to a glare back and another at the change of ends a game later.
In what proved a tight second set, Norrie found himself broken again in game nine after which Djokovic served out the match after his opponent’s medical timeout.