By Raz Mirza
Britain’s Cam Norrie admits facing ‘The King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is arguably the toughest task in world sport.
Norrie is enjoying his career-best season and maybe about to break into the top 40 for the first time after having reached ATP finals on clay in Estoril and Lyon.
He is, however, yet to go further than the third round at a Grand Slam, and to do so he is likely to have to cause the mother of all upsets against a player who advanced to this stage of his favourite tournament for the 17th time.
Nadal, the 13-time champion, moved to an incredible 102-2 at Roland Garros after celebrating his 35th birthday with a 17th-straight victory over Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
It would be a third meeting of the season between the pair on Saturday in Paris, with Norrie acquitting himself very well at the same stage of the Australian Open and then facing the great Spaniard on clay in Barcelona in April.
Asked if he thinks facing Nadal is the toughest task in world sport, Norrie said: “I think if you look at the stats, his record is pretty impressive. Yeah, I think it changes nothing for me. Another great opportunity to have a crack at him.
“Obviously I’m going to be the underdog going in there, so no pressure on me, go out and see if I can execute my game and frustrate him. Another wonderful experience for me playing him, again, third round of a Slam, especially where he’s been very dominant.”
Norrie, who reached the last 32 at Roland Garros with a gritty 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-2 victory over South Africa’s Lloyd Harris, feels in the form of his life, but he’s also aware of what he will be up against.
He said: “I’ve learned that he’s actually a human being. He can miss shots. He can play short at times. But then you give him a little bit of room for him to find his forehand, he gets it going. He can be extremely dangerous. It can be absolute carnage going into the forehand there.
“I’ve played him twice in Australia and in Barcelona, so I definitely know how he plays and he knows how I play. But I’m just going to look to bring my game and looking forward to take it to him again.
“I feel great physically, which is a bonus for me, and I’ll back my legs against anyone, even against Rafa. But I’m going to have to execute, and it’s not going to be easy.”
Nadal, a winner in Barcelona and Rome, is looking in imperious form on the red dirt as he seeks a 14th French Open title and 21st Grand Slam crown, which would move him one clear of Roger Federer and three ahead of No 1 Novak Djokovic on the all-time list.
“Well, he’s a great player. He’s winning plenty of matches this year,” Nadal said of Norrie.
“Every week he’s making good results, winning against very good players. I know gonna be a tough one. I need to be ready to play my best.
“I know he has a style of game that is not easy to play against. I need to play well. So let’s see. I hope to be ready to play at the level that I need.”
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