WATCH: Cam Norrie's champion's speech earlier this year at Los Cabos

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Would you be surprised to learn that Cam Norrie has the same number of match wins, 44, as Novak Djokovic in 2021? Would you be surprised to know that the 26-year-old Brit is No. 14 in the race to Turin, and soon to make his Top 20 debut in the rankings?

If you’re like me, Norrie’s silently stellar season has crept up on you. He’s Great Britain’s top male player at the moment, and this year he has won his first title, in Los Cabos, and reached finals on clay (Lyon) and grass (Queen’s Club). Still, attention-wise, he has played third fiddle among his countrymen and women in 2021—behind Emma Raducanu’s meteoric rise, and Andy Murray’s rocky comeback road. Before today, Norrie hadn’t done a transcribed press conference since Wimbledon. His Twitter feed consists of occasional retweets of news outlets talking about his wins.

Like Raducanu, Norrie has a far-flung background. He was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand, played college tennis at Texas Christian University and represents the U.K. But there’s nothing exotic about his meat-and-potatoes baseline game, other than the fact that he’s left-handed. Like a lot of his fellow southpaws, Norrie was a Rafael Nadal fan growing up, and you can see a slight resemblance to Rafa in the way the 26-year-old walks out to the middle of the court to wave to the crowd after a win.

GettyImages-1346427283

GettyImages-1346427283

Sneaky tall at 6’2,” Norrie isn’t a power player or a spectacular shot-maker. But sometimes that works to a player’s advantage, because it means he doesn’t try to go for a lot of spectacular shots. That was the case in Norrie’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win over Tommy Paul on Wednesday, which sent him into his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal. While Paul charged the net at every opportunity, Norrie ran everything down, kept the ball well inside the lines and kicking high with topspin, and made the passing shots he needed to make. He also showed another Rafa-esque quality: The ability to save break points by swinging his serve wide in the ad court, and following it up with an inside-out forehand into the other corner.

The match hung in the balance for the better part of two hours, until Norrie did two things at the start of the third set: At 1-1, he broke Paul’s serve in a 12-minute game, on his ninth break point. Then, at 2-2, he won a 26-point rally to hold serve. The combination seemed to break the American’s spirit, and Norrie won the last four games. He’s a stubborn competitor.

“I knew what I was in for,” Norrie said of Paul’s net-rushing in a Tennis Channel interview. “I stayed pretty composed in the big moments.”

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Norrie was a Rafael Nadal fan growing up, and you can see a slight resemblance to Rafa in the way the 26-year-old walks out to the middle of the court to wave to the crowd after a win.

Norrie was a Rafael Nadal fan growing up, and you can see a slight resemblance to Rafa in the way the 26-year-old walks out to the middle of the court to wave to the crowd after a win.

This summer, Norrie, who is coached by his former college teammate Facundo Lugones, explained his recent success in suitably nuts and bolts terms, and showed a penchant for detailed analysis of his own game.

“First of all, there’s the serve and return, I think I’m just doing those two fundamentals very well,” he said. “I’ve been a little bit more comfortable coming forward…I’m defending the forehand a lot better…I think I’m using my backhand line approach very well.”

“I think I’m doing a lot of things well. But also there’s so much I can work on, there’s so many improvements that I can make. It’s exciting stuff for me.”

As grounded as Norrie can sound, he also likes to dream big: No. 1-ranking big.

“I know I’ve got a long way to go,” Norrie says of the top spot, “but that’s the goal for me.”

He might be a little closer to that goal if the draw gods had smiled on him at the Slams in 2021. Instead, he got a strong dose of the Big 3. He faced Nadal in the third round at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, and Roger Federer in the third round at Wimbledon. He won one set in those three matches, but he took the positive where he could.

“I think it’s so good to play these guys, to experience it,” he said after losing to Federer. “I can’t complain about the draws at all. It’s just where my ranking is at the moment. I’m happy with my progression.”

Norrie’s ranking has risen since then, and his draws will surely improve because of it. Next up in Indian Wells is Diego Schwartzman; at last year’s US Open, Norrie beat the Argentine 7-5 in the fifth set. A few more wins like that, a few more finals, a few more deep runs at Masters 1000s, and the tennis world might have to start making some noise about Cam Norrie.