Everyone knows that Andy Murray is Great Britain’s number one tennis player and will be for a number of years to come. Yet everyone also knows that, as far away as it may feel right now, he will not be gracing tennis courts around the world forever.
A number of players have been cited as having the potential and talent to take on the heavy mantle Murray has carried for long. All of those judgements have so far proven wide of the mark. Except a more recent one. Kyle Edmund, the 21 year-old and current British number 4, has come of age in 2016.
The finest proof of this development came during this year’s US Open. In the final major of the year he reached the last 16 for the best Slam performance of his fledgling career to date at his first ever appearance in the main draw in New York. He went out after going blow for blow with world Number 1 and eventual runner up Novak Djokovic, even though his exit was in straight sets and just 69 minutes. He had previously only reached the 2nd round of a Grand Slam once, also this year at the French Open.
Even though Edmund was one of four British players to reach the last 16, incidentally the first time that has happened in a Slam since 1969, it was the way he got there that showed what an immense talent he is. He demolished 13th seed Richard Gasquet in straight sets in the first round, swept comfortably through his next match against Ernesto Escobedo and then fended off both one of the biggest servers in the world John Isner and the local American crowd to set up a match with Djokovic where he by no means let himself down.
In just a week, the man from Yorkshire has gone from 84 to a career high 55 in the world. The win against Gasquet was the best of his career, winning 6-2 6-2 6-3 to cause the upset of the 1st round that was fully deserved. He was faster and cleverer and outhit one of the Tour’s most intelligent players. The match stats say everything - 82 points to 52, 6 breaks of serve and 40 clean winners. If people merely saw this as a freak result, the win against Isner proved that Edmund is the real deal. He won in 4 sets during a match of almost 3 hours on the atmospheric 2nd show court where he managed both the occasion and the big points far better than his more experienced opponent. The giant American beat Edmund at the French Open this year but a repeat result never looked likely, with Edmund taking the win with his first match point during the 4th set tie break. Calm authority was blended with bristling aggression.
Despite his defeat in his Davis Cup semi-final rubber against Argentina, many would argue that Edmund had already given sufficient proof of his potential during Great Britain’s quarter-final win away against Serbia. Without Andy Murray. He won both of his matches on the clay to first give his team the lead before securing the win following Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot’s win in the doubles. Those performances, when the pressure was really on his shoulders due to Murray’s absence, gave him the platform from which he is now seeking to launch himself from up the rankings.
Both of these examples display the mental characteristics that give Edmund such a chance of making a name for himself as a top-level tennis player. They showed the notable mental strength that he already has. He is displaying himself as someone who does not get fazed by opponents, venues or match situations. And hearing him speak after these big wins, you heard a young man who has his feet firmly planted on ground and is desperate to continually improve and better himself. He is a player with ambition and the desire and quality to achieve it.
And what are the main weapons in Edmund’s arsenal? The forehand for one is formidable. When he is on song, there are few who can live with it. It is his go-to shot. For example, he hit 30 clean winners off that flank against Gasquet. This is aided by a very impressive serve, which is particularly effective on the faster, hard courts. He actually won a higher percentage of first serve points against Isner. However, despite his speed, Edmund’s movement on the court needs to improve, along with his shot selection and general consistency. It was also clear that he needs further experience of the kind of match he had against Djokovic, where he looked at times just a little overawed by the packed out 23,700 crowd.
In the summer of 2015 Edmund was no.101 in the world. A year and a bit later and he is on the brink of breaking into the top 50. He is a man on the rise. There is still much to be done but 2016 has been the year in which we have had the greatest glimpses yet of the exciting ability that he has. Edmund has had a taster of what could be his. Now he has to push on and fulfil his obvious potential. British tennis may then finally have the apprentice to Murray that it has long wished for.