Tough Delray Beach Conditions Reward Both Norrie and Paul

Cameron Norrie (photo: Andrew Patron/Delray Beach Open)

DELRAY BEACH, FLA./WASHINGTON, February 19, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Cameron Norrie is the No. 1 seed of the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open by main draw two years after being the top seed in the qualifying draw. What a difference a couple of years can make.

The World No. 13 from Great Britain, who is the No. 1 seed in a tour-level draw for just the second time in career, is making the most of his week in South Florida. The last time he was a top seed, last year in Los Cabos, Norrie enjoyed a title run and lifted his first trophy. Can he do it again? Perhaps, he’s only dropped six games all week through his first two matches.

On Friday afternoon, Norrie beat No. 5 seed Sebastian Korda of the United States for the first time in three career tries – all on hard courts. His well-earned 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (4) victory over the 43rd-ranked Korda in two hours and 17 minutes advanced him to Saturday’s semifinals against No. 4 seed Tommy Paul. It marks Norrie’s first ATP Tour semifinal of the year after starting the season on a four-match losing streak, which included Korda’s first-round win over him at the Australian Open last month. It’s also Norrie’s second straight Delray Beach Open semifinal appearance.

At the outset of their quarterfinal match, Norrie secured his first-ever set against Korda after losing to him in the Delray Beach Open semifinals last year and he did it convincingly during the 37-minute opening set. Norrie won 92 percent of his first serve points to 56 percent for Korda and converted two of the five break-point chances he was presented with. The Briton broke Korda in consecutive service games – the fifth and seventh – and won the last four games of the set.

However, in the second set, Korda rallied to break Norrie on his fourth chance to close out an 18-point second game and consolidated the break for a 3-0 lead. Suddenly, within a 20-minute period, the momentum had shifted toward the Bradenton, Fla. native, who was a finalist at Delray Beach last year – and the crowd reacted in kind.

Korda maintained his break lead at 4-1 after he saved a break point to hold serve in the fifth game. He broke Norrie for a second time after the British No. 1 tapped a fifth-shot forehand long to go ahead 5-1. Serving for the set, Korda saved a break point after Norrie hit a 16th-shot forehand long, but squandered a couple of set points, too, as Norrie countered with a variety of flat-handed returns. Finally, Korda fought back valiantly and garnered the 44-minute second set 6-1 with a service winner to force a decider.

In the final set, both players remained on serve through the first eight games and neither was able to generate a break point. Then, in the ninth game, Korda got a break point and capitalized on the opportune moment. He won a 10-shot rally with a volley winner coming in toward the net that Norrie was unable to get his racquet on. It gave Korda, ahead 5-4, an opportunity to serve for the match. However, Norrie wasn’t ready to concede. Instead, he gained a triple-break point, and converted the break on his third opportunity – thanks to Korda’s third double-fault of the match – to level the set at 5-all.

Norrie held firm and gained a tough hold for a 6-5 lead, which put the onus on Korda to hold serve and send the match to a decisive tie-break or go home. The 21-year-old American did just that. So, it was on to the third-set tie-break.

Korda got an immediate mini-break and consolidated it for a 2-0 lead. Then, Norrie responded and reversed the course and held for a 3-2 lead on serve. Soon, Norrie pushed ahead 4-3 with his second mini-break after Korda hit a wide forehand return and consolidated it for a 5-3 advantage after Korda netted a forehand. Then, he gained a match point at 6-3, which Korda promptly saved with his fifth ace. However, Norrie won the tie-break 7-4 and the match on his second opportunity after Korda hit a wide return on the very next point – undoubtedly a point he would like to have a do-over. Chalk it up as a learning experience for both players.

Indeed, by the end of the match the point totals were dead even with each player winning 97 of the 194 points played. Each broke the other’s serve three times. It was a statistical dead heat.

“It always a tricky match going up against Sebi,” Norrie said during an on-court interview following his win. “He’s beaten me the last two times. He’s such a great player. He’s a tough matchup for me in general. I came out super aggressive and managed to be the one dictating plays a little bit more [in the first set], then he started doing it to me in the second set and what a battle it was in the third set. I managed to sneak through. It was definitely a tough one [to win], but what a great atmosphere.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s semifinal against Paul, Norrie said: “Tommy’s so talented. He’s one of my good friends on Tour. It’s never going to be easy. [Saturday’s] going to be a good battle. … I’m definitely going to have to up my level to beat Tommy.”

Paul reaches first semifinal of young season

Meanwhile, in the opening quarterfinal match, fourth seed Tommy Paul came in bidding for his first semifinal of the young season and first since winning the Stockholm Open last year. After putting together a personal-best 25-win season and achieving a career-high ranking, things are looking up for the 41st-ranked Paul.

On Friday, the American No. 5 succeeded with an unscathed 6-3, 6-1 victory over childhood friend and fellow Florida resident Stefan Kozlov, a qualifier ranked No. 151, in an hour and 19 minutes. It was the first time the two 24-year-olds had met in a pro tournament.


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Friday’s victory was Paul’s seventh on tour-level against players ranked outside of the Top 100 and it came on another hot and humid South Florida afternoon (79 degrees Fahrenheit, 75 percent humidity). The serving statistics favored Paul and contributed greatly to his triumph. He won 71 percent (25 of 35) of his first-serve points to 42 percent (15 of 36) for Kozlov, and saved seven of the eight break points he faced. Paul broke five times including thrice in the second set en route to winning the final five games of the match. Paul outpointed Kozlov 65-45.

“I don’t think we had played since we were 14-years-old,” Paul recollected in his on-court interview. “It’s crazy because we’ve been practicing together and living in the same area for a long time. I’m happy to get this win against him.”

Paul admitted before the start of the next quarterfinal match he had no preference to whom he would face in Saturday’s semifinal round, either Sebastian Korda or Cameron Norrie, which the Briton would win. “I’d like to get revenge on both of them. They both got me a couple of times last year. I’m looking forward to getting a win in the next round,” he said.

Opelka overcomes distractions, rallies to win

Throughout his quarterfinal match that began Friday’s evening session, No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka complained vociferously with chair umpire Simon Cannavan about the volume of the music taking place next door that was filtering onto the stadium court at the Delray Beach Tennis Club. While it certainly seemed to distract the World No. 20 from the United States – especially during the second set when the momentum of the match seemed to be shifting toward his opponent – it turned out it was part of a event organized by tournament sponsors.

Opelka wound up making fun of the music during his on-court, post-match interview. That’s because the gentle giant Opelka woke up, regrouped and pulled out a win over No. 7 seed Adrian Mannarino of France, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, that lasted two hours and four minutes. It advanced Opelka into his second straight semifinal.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a Bee Gees concert or a tennis tournament for a while,” Opelka said with a smile and a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “It was quite annoying. … I was a little bit of a head case out there but this is my job. I’m not used to playing with a concert going on right next door. They were telling me it’s the entertainment business. I’ll probably get fined again this week for it.”

On a happier note, Opelka, who is from Delray Beach and has been able to spend the week living at home, shared how much it’s meant to him playing in his hometown tournament.

“I have a lot of my friends and family here, which is nice. It feels great playing at home,” Opelka said. “It’s been a pleasure having my close friends and family around [this week].”

The 6-foot-11-inch Opelka extended his winning streak at Delray Beach to seven, after winning the tournament in 2020 and skipping it last year. The quarterfinal victory was his second straight final eight win over Mannarino in two weeks after beating him last week at the Dallas Open. He finished with 19 aces, won 85 percent (40 of 47) of his first-serve points, was broken once and broke Mannarino twice in five tries. He outpointed his opponent 87-78.

On Saturday, Opelka will meet No. 91 John Millman of Australia, who upset No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 34 minutes after rallying from 0-3 down in the second set. After breaking Dimitrov to go ahead 5-4 in the second set, Millman put away the victory on his first match-point opportunity after the World No. 26 sent a forehand wide that killed an eight-shot rally.

Millman’s victory ended a seven-match losing streak in ATP Tour quarterfinals for the Brisbane native. Going back to his first quarterfinal in 2016 in Montpellier, Millman is 5-14 in tour-level quarterfinals.

“Look, I’m just so happy,” Millman said during his on-court interview. “This is my fourth time here and I hadn’t won a match [until this year]. I’ve turned it around.

“Grigor is obviously such a good player – he’s been a good player for so long. You have to come out here and play good tennis, you take care of your service games. You have to play with good quality at the back of the court. He’s good at transitioning. I weathered a few little storms there and managed to hold my nerves at the end.”

Millman won 71 percent (27 of 38) of his first-serve points, converted three of six break points and outpointed Dimitrov 67-53.

Going into Saturday’s semifinal, Millman will take a 3-0 head-to-head record against Opelka with him.

Qureshi and Nedovyesov advance to doubles semifinals

No. 3 seeds Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan defeated Americans Nicholas Monroe and Jackson Withrow, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in an hour and 28 minutes to advance to the semifinal round. Next, they will face American wild cards Robert Galloway and Alex Lawson.

Earlier, top seeds Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands reached the semifinals via walkover from Treat Huey of the Philippines and Denis Kudla of the United States. Next, they will play Marcos Giron of the United States and Hans Hach Verdugo of Mexico.

It’s official: Millman hits 10,000th ace in tournament history

In its 30th edition, the Delray Beach Open reached the 10,000th ace in tournament history on Thursday. It was achieved by John Millman during the first set of his second-round win against Marcos Giron.

Friday’s Delray Beach Open results

Saturday’s Delray Beach Open order of play

By the numbers

Stefan Kozlov of the United States, who lost to fellow American Tommy Paul, was attempting to reach the first ATP Tour semifinal of his career while appearing in just the second tour-level quarterfinal – and first since 2016 at ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The loss dropped Kozlov’s record against Top-50 players to 2-9.

“Quotable …”

“They must love tennis. They’re amazing. They’re among my closest friends, no doubt about that. Their support means so much to me, especially in moments like that. They’re sort of nearby and It’s just very nice we can share a moment like that.”

– No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov commenting on having Venus and Serena Williams among the many fans cheering for him during his Thursday night victory against Mitchell Krueger. Both of the Williams sisters maintain nearby South Florida residences.