For 14 years, New Zealand was home to Cameron Norrie.
The 27-year-old lived in the country from the age of two to 16 before he moved to England and then the United States to study at Texas Christian University. This week, the World No. 14 is back in New Zealand, making his third main draw appearance at the ASB Classic in Auckland.
It has been some journey for second seed Norrie, who has fond memories of attending the ATP 250 as a teenager.
“It is pretty crazy playing here,” Norrie told ATPTour.com. “I was actually in the car with [Fabio] Fognini coming back from the practice courts today and I have a photo with him from 2011. He was 23 years old and I was even younger than that. I remember coming here as a fan and watching all the players and even hitting with John [Isner] this morning and I have a photo with him as well from 2008.
“I remember watching him in 2008, so it was pretty crazy for me to be a fan and to be one of those kids out there watching and then to be suddenly playing here. I’ve played well here before. I made the final in 2019, my first-ever final, so it’s pretty special to be back here. Especially kind of playing a bit better, playing at the level I am.”
Having laid down roots in New Zealand, Norrie will be widely supported when he plays in Auckland. The Briton is excited to spend time with his parents and friends over the next week as he aims to deliver for them on court.
“I’m getting a lot of messages from friends, family and people that I went to school with that I haven’t spoken to for 15 years. It’s pretty cool and I’m looking forward to the support from everyone,” Norrie said. “I really enjoy being here. My parents are still living here, which is cool. I played juniors here and I am friends with a lot of guys who I used to train with and they’re kind of my best friends.
“They are going to be around watching and I will go to dinner with them and see them. I went back to the house where I grew up on Friday and I was just resting and saw my dogs and everything, which was also cool.”
With Norrie based in London and spending most of the year travelling on Tour, his opportunities to visit New Zealand are limited. While the four-time tour-level titlist enjoys English life, there is one important aspect of New Zealand that he misses.
“The one thing I would like to do in London is going to the beach. I miss that,” Norrie said. “Being in New Zealand you can go and there are so many different beaches even close by in Auckland. In London you can walk by the river, but it is freezing!”
Norrie arrives at the hard-court event in red-hot form, having held a 3-0 record at the inaugural United Cup. The Briton, who plays Thiago Monterio or Jiri Lehecka in his opening match, defeated Australian Alex de Minaur, Spaniard Rafael Nadal and American Taylor Fritz in Sydney.
“I feel pretty confident. Beating those three guys, especially Demon to start the year was pleasing,” Norrie said. “Playing him in Australia is never easy and he plays well on that court. And then to follow up with Rafa, who I’d never even won a set against him. So that was a great start. Then Fritz and I always have a battle.
“To play quite tight matches with all three of them and to play well in the big moments and the big points is good. It has been a good start for me. I’m going to take the confidence, but I think it’s a long year and I want to keep building and I want to keep pushing for more. There are still a lot of things in my game I want to work on and improve, but I’ll take that start.”
Norrie led Team Great Britain to top spot in Group D at the mixed-teams event before his nation lost to eventual champion United States in the Sydney City Final. Watching on from the Team Zone was former World No. 4 Tim Henman, who captained his country.
“It was great spending time with Tim on the practice court and on the match courts, hearing what he had to say in different situations. Also, when I was watching other players play and hearing the comments.
“He is very knowledgeable about the game. He’s been in a lot of high-pressure moments. So, it was positive. He’s pretty funny, quick with his comments and we had a good time as a team and having him there.”
With Henman’s words fresh in his ears, Norrie will look to push on and win his fifth ATP Tour title this week in Auckland.