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‘He’s a dog now’ – Cameron Norrie’s coach on his ‘chicken’s’ rise to the top

Cameron Norrie will try to continue his brilliant run by beating Novak Djokovic on Friday (John Walton/PA)
Cameron Norrie will try to continue his brilliant run by beating Novak Djokovic on Friday (John Walton/PA)

Facundo Lugones and Cameron Norrie have come a long way since the rookie Argentinian coach guided his ‘chicken’ through the lower rungs of professional tennis.

Lugones and Norrie have worked together ever since meeting through the tennis programme at Texas Christian University, with coach and player learning together.

Now the duo can celebrate a huge milestone as Norrie prepares to take on Novak Djokovic in his first grand slam semi-final at Wimbledon on Friday.

“In Argentina when you’re taking care of someone, you call them your chicken,” said Lugones.

“When I started traveling with him, all my friends would ask me, ‘How is your chicken doing?’ He became a dog now. He’s not a chicken any more.”

Norrie has burst into public consciousness this week but his has been a gradual climb to the top that has gathered pace brilliantly over the last couple of seasons.

The 26-year-old became British number one after winning the big ATP tournament in Indian Wells last October and has maintained his progress this year, breaking into the top 10 for the first time in April.

Facunod Lugones (left) and Cameron Norrie walk off the practice courts at Wimbledon
Facundo Lugones (left) and Cameron Norrie walk off the practice courts at Wimbledon (John Walton/PA)

Norrie’s key weapon is not his serve or groundstrokes but his stamina, which came into play again as he recovered from a poor start to defeat David Goffin in five sets in the quarter-finals.

“He does a lot of fitness, probably more than anyone,” said Lugones. “I don’t even know how much other players do, but it would be hard to beat how many hours Cam does, especially when he’s fitness training with Vasek (Jursik).

“They do some really intense conditioning sessions on the court where he stays in that red zone where the heartbeat is just insane. That’s why in the fifth set he looked actually more comfortable than at the beginning of the match.”

Lugones revealed Norrie can push his heartrate to 200 beats per minute and stay there for close to 10 minutes.

“I think a normal person can’t even do half of that, can probably die, would be close to passing out,” said Lugones. “He can play tennis for eight, nine minutes on that.”

It is unusual for a player-coach relationship to last as long as the one between Norrie and Lugones, who was named ATP coach of the year for 2021.

“We have a great relationship,” said the Argentinian, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday.

“Pretty much the same as when we started. Very respectful of each other. Off the court we talk about anything. We’re friends. When we’re in tennis, really, really professional, very serious.

“Maybe we don’t spend that much time off the court now because he has his girlfriend, has his own place. I stay somewhere else. Maybe we spend less time off the court, but the quality of the time and the way we do things is pretty much the same.

“For him it’s really important to have people around him he can trust with anything. We’re going to push him. He believes in us. I think he is happy with that team. That gives him a lot of consistency. That’s what he wants.”

It is only this run that has elevated Norrie to anything like the status enjoyed by Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu, but he appears impervious to the hype, which will ratchet up prior to his clash with top seed Djokovic.

“I think that was the biggest thing, the last couple days, how composed he was, how he was able to stay patient and deal with everything and just take it like another match,” said Lugones. “I think that’s why he’s in the semis.

“You never want to sell Norrie short. He doesn’t get the hype that other players get for similar results. But I don’t think he cares about that. If anything, it motivates him to do better and be in these moments more often.

“Maybe he was underestimated, but we don’t really care. It doesn’t really matter what people say or think. At the end of the day, the results are what matter.”