Cameron Norrie’s hopes of becoming the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final in six years were dashed on Friday as he was defeated by the 20-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic.
But a roaring audience gave the British No 1 a standing ovation as he left Centre Court while Djokovic was booed as he blew kisses to his fans.
In his post-match press conference, Norrie said he was “proud” of his performance and paid tribute to his fans.
“I think everyone’s got behind me, especially in the crowd. Everyone is chanting things, shouting out things,” he said.
“I think it’s probably the first time in this country, here and around Wimbledon, that I think people have gotten to know me a little bit more and the way I play, the way I operate on the court. I think it’s given a lot of people something to cheer about. They love that.”
He said he would unwind by “hanging out” with his best friend from New Zealand who spent two days flying to the UK after pledging to support him if he made the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Djokovic was quizzed about the end of the match when he was seemingly booed after he blew kisses to the crowd. He was asked if he had blown a kiss to a “troll” but he joked that it was directed at someone who was “cheering” him on.
Earlier thousands had cheered and leapt to their feet as Norrie, 26, took the first set while his parents, David and Helen, and his girlfriend, Louise Jacobi, watched on.
But in a tense two-and-a-half-hour battle in 29C conditions, the six-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic fought back to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
The roof was partly closed in the middle of the first set as the sun blazed down on spectators in the front row of the royal box, including Princess Beatrice. There were 26 cases of people requiring treatment for heat-related illness over the course of Friday.
The crowd of 15,000 firmly backed the last Briton in the tournament, chanting “Norrie, Norrie, Norrie, oi, oi, oi,” and afterwards fans said they were proud of his achievement.
“Norrie put up a really good fight against one of the greatest players of all time. He did this country proud,” said James O’Brien, who watched from the stands. “I hope he takes this experience and can continue to play at this level. Ultimately, he came up against Djokovic who has been unstoppable, but Norrie should be proud of his efforts.”
Djokovic praised Norrie, who had never previously been past the third round of a grand slam, in his on-court interview.
“I didn’t start off well and he was the better player for the first set,” he said. “Cameron didn’t have much to lose, he’s playing the tournament of his life. He’s a great player and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Crowds lined up in the queue for tickets on Friday morning, excited about having a Briton in the semi-finals. Norrie fever hit SW19 in the run-up to the match, with security having to close the hill after it reached full capacity. Wimbledon bosses then took the decision to screen the match on Court No 2 to satisfy spectators who had been turned away.
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, already through to the final, earlier talked up Norrie when asked about the possibility of facing him there.
He told a press conference: “We all know what Cam is capable of. The growth of Cameron Norrie is insane. I just remember that kid with a pink sweatband playing under 10s that I used to destroy every time I played him.
“Now he’s a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, and we have the chance to go up against each other at a grand slam is just nuts.”
The two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray also heaped praise on Norrie, saying: “He’s a great professional, gets the most out of his game, and him and his team have worked extremely hard to get him into this position.”
Norrie is first British man to have reached the final since 2016, when Murray defeated the Canadian Milos Raonic.
Norrie was born in South Africa to a Scottish father and Welsh mother, and grew up in New Zealand before attending college in the US. His mother has previously told how Norrie began playing tennis with a repurposed squash racket as a young child after she introduced him to the sport.