MATCH POINT: Tiafoe tops Norrie to reach Indian Wells semifinals

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Shortly before 1:00 p.m., during what proved the last changeover of today’s BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal match between Frances Tiafoe and Cameron Norrie, the Stadium 1 speakers played the longstanding Rolling Stones song, "Get Off Of My Cloud.” It was a fitting tune for a day that had started off with a morning rainstorm and a match that two points after starting was delayed for 20 minutes by a patch of drizzle.

Tiafoe by that late stage of the match was also eager to get Norrie off of his cloud. Two games earlier, Tiafoe had served at 6-4, 5-2, only to be broken. Now it was 5-4, a treacherous time for just about any player without a lights-out serve. Though the temperature was a comfortable 69 degrees, a slightly swirling breeze had been intruding all match long. Norrie had been more frustrated by it, the wind hindering the precision of his flat drives.

Nothing at this point could derail Tiafoe, though.. Up 30-love after two solid baseline points, he then unloaded a 139 m.p.h. ace down the T. On Tiafoe’s first match point, a Norrie forehand flew long. Tiafoe is now in the semis of a Masters 1000 event for the first time.

“I’m so happy about today,” Tiafoe told courtside interviewer Andrew Krasny following his 6-4, 6-4 victory. “I played on the baseline . . . It was pretty windy on this court. It worked to my advantage.”




Airtight defense, imaginative offense and wire-to-wire composure were the keys to Tiafoe’s victory. Well aware how aggressive and inventive Norrie can be, Tiafoe repeatedly looked to apply pressure, with everything from smart court positioning and swift movements on the baseline to frequent treks forward. The tipping point came in the first set. With Norrie serving at 3-3, 15-30, Tiafoe ripped a crosscourt backhand return, charged into the net, and closed out the rally. Though Norrie won the 15-40 point with a crisp wide ace, Tiafoe at 30-40 struck an untouchable inside-out forehand winner.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Tiafoe went ahead 40-15 and sizzled a firm down-the-line backhand volley—tip your hat towards Stefan Edberg—that extracted a Norrie backhand into the net.

As the match went on, it was clear that while both players are creative, Tiafoe today had a notable edge in the movement department. That gave him the chance to both keep rallies alive and, as the opportunity surfaced, take control of them in a wide range of ways. Tiafoe’s ability to deploy angles, drop shots and volleys has improved significantly in the last year. A major reason for this is his improved fitness, a physical stamina that translates into mental fortitude. That’s even more apparent from the baseline. Tiafoe shows far more patience in rallies before he looks to engage his artistic side.

Norrie’s previous two matches, versus Andrey Rublev and Taro Daniel, had been quite arduous. Today, though, Norrie appeared more sluggish than usual, perhaps the result of those prior efforts, but also comprised by Tiafoe’s repeated success at dictating the tempo of so many rallies.

Next up for Tiafoe: the winner of this afternoon’s quarterfinal between Daniil Medvedev and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.