Britain’s interest in singles at the Australian Open ended with a spirited defeat for Cameron Norrie against Rafael Nadal in the third round.
For the second time in the last three grand slams, 69th-ranked Norrie found himself the only British representative in the last 32 of the main draws.
He faced a formidable task against second seed Nadal but acquitted himself very well, pushing the Spaniard before falling to a 7-5 6-2 7-5 defeat.
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The 25-year-old had mixed feelings after the match, which was played on an empty Rod Laver Arena with Melbourne back in lockdown.
Norrie said: “It was tough. It was always going to be nice to play a big dog like Rafa. Just kind of a bit strange playing the other night on Thursday and such a great atmosphere and good crowd, and then coming out there on the biggest court with no one there and it was pretty dull.
“But I think I played OK. I was just a little bit disappointed with some execution, especially in the first set, and he didn’t really have to work too hard to get that. Then I did well to hang in there in the third.
“All credit to him. He was pretty proactive on his service games. It was just a couple of loose errors and I was right in there in the match.
“I think it was a fairly close match and there are some positives to take from that. But more I just left the court feeling like I want to get better. It was a great experience and I want to learn from it.”
Norrie had not won a main-draw match at Melbourne Park prior to his first-round victory over compatriot Dan Evans, while this was his first career meeting against one of the big three of men’s tennis.
Nadal won the first six points but Norrie settled into the match well thereafter, saving break points in his first two service games before forging ahead with a break of his own for 3-2.
Nadal’s back issue did not cause him any major problems during his first two matches, but he was struggling to hit the ball cleanly here and making some unexpected errors.
He hit straight back with a break to love, and Norrie could not maintain the high level he had produced in the 12th game to take the Spaniard to a tie-break.
Nadal, who had won 103 of his previous 117 tour-level clashes with fellow left-handers, dominated the second set and looked to be pulling away but Norrie dug in brilliantly at the start of the third.
Nadal looked a little agitated as the set headed towards a tie-break, but again Norrie could not quite get across the line as the second seed clinched victory after two hours and 14 minutes.
Nadal, who will next face Italian Fabio Fognini, was complimentary about Norrie’s game, saying: “I don’t see why he can’t go to that next step. He can do it, of course.
“He’s brave. His serve worked quite well, especially the first serve. And then he has a very flat backhand that today, with the heavy conditions, the ball was quite slow, court fast, so that helps a little bit to him. I think he has a complete game.”