Cameron Norrie saw his preparations for the French Open come together perfectly by winning his first ATP Tour title on clay on Saturday, edging out Slovakian Alex Molcan 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 in the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon final.
Top seed Norrie, the 26-year-old British No1, had lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final at the ATP 250 event last year – part of a steep learning curve – and was determined not to suffer the same fate against Molcan.
In a real tussle, Norrie recovered from seeing two match points on Molcan's serve disappear in the second set as he held off a terrific fight ba from the 24-year-old to eventually come through in three sets after two hours and 31 minutes.
The Briton overcame Francisco Cerundolo, Sebastian Baez and Holger Rune earlier in the event. And world No 11 Norrie has now captured four ATP Tour titles in his career, with his victory in the south of France the first time he has won a title on clay. It is also Norrie's first tour-level triumph outside North America.
Norrie made a fast start on Court Central as he caused problems for Molcan with his watertight groundstrokes, with the Slovakian taking time to settle. The Briton moved a double break ahead, and while Molcan recovered one, he was unable to hit through Norrie with regularity as the 26-year-old moved ahead.
Breaks were then exchanged at the start of the second set, before Norrie conjured up two match points on Molcan's serve at 4-5. However, the 24-year-old saved both before he continued to go on the attack in the tie-break to level. Norrie came out firing in the third set, though, putting his disappointment behind him to play the more consistent tennis, pulling Molcan from side to side to record the win.
Norrie said: “It is my first title on the clay so it means a lot to me. I can’t be happier with how I handled everything this week. This one feels the best so far. I don’t know why, it is just so special and I couldn’t be happier and am really speechless right now. It was an incredible atmosphere. Thanks to everyone for coming out.
“I had chances to close the matches in straight sets this week and get it done easier than usual and it didn’t go that way and I was able to let that go and respond. In the third set I moved really well and it is nice to get over the line.”
For runner-up Molcan it was the third final of career and a second on clay – but he is still waiting for that first trophy.
The 24-year-old from Slovakia, up to a career-high No46 in the world, said: “First of all thanks to the crowd who were great encouraging me, I was trying to fight and don’t know what happened to me in the final set.
“I was broken mentally and physically and I wasn’t fast enough. I didn’t believe in my shots, and Cameron played amazing tennis.
“I would like to congratulate him and his team and wish him all the best at the French Open, maybe we will play each other again there.
“He deserved to win today. It was the third final of my career and still nothing, no trophy. But if I play tournaments like I did here and improve my game, then I will win events.”
The Roland-Garros event Slam in Paris starts on Sunday, and Norrie’s success will have hugely boosted his confidence and hopes of exceeding his previous best of reaching the third round.
The left-hander has been drawn against a home hope in Frenchman Manuel Guinard in the first round who is ranked at No151 in the world – his highest ever position.