Kyle Edmund played a tidy match on Tuesday at Wimbledon. He kept to himself mostly, executing his plan like a soldier might carry out a sergeant’s orders, walking confidently along the baseline from point to point, finding his rhythm early, its beat illustrated in efficient serving, brutally struck groundstrokes, crisp volleys, and even a few feathery drop shots.
What else would you expect from the country’s number one player? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer in Great Britain, home of The Championships and burdensome media outlets that poach poor souls who disappoint their masses.
Edmund rose to that top spot in March in the shadows of Andy Murray… Sir Andy Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion who had been expected to make a comeback on grass, but withdrew Sunday citing an uncooperative hip-injury recovery.
“I just do my best,” Edmund told the BBC, immediately after securing his win over qualifier Alex Bolt, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. “I don’t think about that [carrying the nation]. Hard work. That’s what got me to this stage. It’s not different now.”
This was Edmund’s first experience on Court 1, one of two show courts at the All England Club. It didn’t go unnoticed by the native, who was actually born in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“I’m just really happy to get through,” he said. “There’s the preparation, excitement, the media. So, I’m happy to get through playing on Court 1.”
Edmund is a bit of a twitcher on court. He picks at his shirt, readjusts his hat often, and points for the towel quickly after a point ends. Yet those gestures say little about what’s inside this 23-year-old. He seems to sense the opportunity that awaits him, but like other top-20 players, he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself. He tries to manage those newer expectations that, as we know, can increase the burden laid at his feet.
“Yeah, I mean, naturally if they weren’t different, there would probably be a problem or something was not right,” Edmund told the press in a pre-tournament interview posted by Wimbledon. He was being asked about his expectations for the fortnight.
“From going to British No. 1, top 20 in the world, people know you a bit better, expect more from you, want you to do better ultimately. I, myself, want to do better. When you go up the rankings, there’s more expectations.”
Edmund embraced his situation Tuesday, acting years older, composed and on a mission. His confidence has been building all year and started with a bang in Melbourne at the Australian Open, where he advanced to the semifinals by scoring decisive wins over Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov. That was the farthest Edmund has ever been at a Grand Slam, after years of bowing out in numerous early rounds. Only last year did he get to the second round at Wimbledon.
Blossoming in the men’s game is a tough ask for any young player. To increase his chances of future stardom, aka winning Wimbledon, Edmund hired Fredrik Rosengren last fall. At the time Edmund was ranked number 63 and was the third-best player in Britain. According to ESPN Tuesday, the two have worked diligently on explosive power, among other game aspects.
“He’s got some wheels,” the ESPN commentator yelled, as Edmund screamed to the net and caught a drop shot from Bolt just in time to tap it down the line for a delicate winner.
Edmund’s serve, though, was surely the “wow-shot” of the early afternoon. He won 100 percent of points from good first serves in the first two sets. Literally: 26 of 26. That percentage dropped in the third, as Bolt broke and pressured Edmund to improve his game. This confident display of serving prowess will take Edmund deep in the draw if, of course, he maintains a steady hand and head.
Edmund’s third-set performance was notable. He saved one set point, when Bolt served at 5-4, to even the score. Then Edmund’s return of serve scorched the lawn of Court 1 with enough intent to leave Bolt shaking his head in disbelief. That last-moment push of aggression illustrated the quiet belief Edmund packs into his game in 2018.
“You have to go out there and play your game,” Edmund said. “Ultimately that’s what I try to concentrate on. I find you learn more anyway as you go along in the match. You tend to do more match solving and fixing then the actual game plan. Ultimately I learn more when I go out on court.”
Problem solving and a growing intuition about his game do bode well for Edmund. The responsibility that comes with improvement while being in the country’s sights is part of the puzzle for him, too.
“If you don’t want that responsibility [of expectations],” he began, “I guess professional sport isn’t really for you. That’s what happens in every professional sport. When you go up, there’s more.”
More for this seemingly levelheaded and quietly determined young man is right around the corner. He could face three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic (No. 12) in the third round. Also lurking in his section are Nick Kyrgios (No. 15), who advanced Tuesday over an always unpredictable Denis Istomin, 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 6-3. And, there’s Alexander Zverev (No. 4), a fellow #NextGen bloke.
One glimmer of hope for Edmund was his win over Andy Murray at Eastbourne last week. Even though Murray was in a less-than ideal physical state, a win over Sir Andy should pump up Edmund’s attitude enough to project positive energy, something he flooded Court 1 with on Tuesday.
Source: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images AsiaPac