Fun Facts and Features from the World of Sport

On the rise Down Under

• Posted in Australia / Tennis • By JoeBaker

With Andy Murray missing the tournament due to hip surgery, the 2018 Australian Open was always going to be a rather different Grand Slam experience for British tennis fans. Of those Brits who arrived at the starting line, it was Jo Konta, following two excellent efforts in Melbourne in 2016 and 2017, who was expected to make the biggest impact.

No one really, seriously, thought that it would in fact be the unheralded 23-year-old from Yorkshire Kyle Edmund who would steal the show.

It was a fantastic tournament, culminating in two classic finals in which Roger Federer secured Slam number 20 and Caroline Wozniacki her first. Yet one of the biggest stories to sweep the grounds of Melbourne Park was of the amazing run of Edmund, who eventually fell at the semi-final stage after lighting up the tournament and shaking up the tennis establishment.

Ahead of the tournament, Edmund’s best Slam effort had been reaching the 4th round at the US Open in 2016. He’d previously only ever won one game in this famous competition, was only just inside the world’s top 50 and his tournament wins to date remain in the lower-tier challenger events. People knew he had talent, but his career had yet to really take off – it certainly did in Australia.

His run to the final 4, where he was eventually beaten by the infinitely more experienced Marin Cilic, was no fluke. He defeated US Open finalist Kevin Anderson and Nikoloz Basilashvili in five sets and swept past Denis Istomin, who beat Novak Djokovic in 2017, in straight sets. He also came from behind to defeat the experienced Italian Andreas Seppi. By far the most impressive, and unforeseen, performance however came in the quarter-finals. No one gave Edmund a chance against Grigor Dimitrov. The world number 3 is the defending ATP Finals Champion and was most people’s second favourite behind Federer. At times the Bulgarian looked perplexed as to how to deal with his opponent as Edmund won in 4 sets. The eventually feeble way he went out to Cilic will not take anything away from the brilliant form that went before it.

So – how is it that a player with so little big tournament experience or track record went so far Down Under?

First and foremost, Edmund has developed two key shots that, on his day, make him a match for pretty much anyone on the tour. Few would question that his forehand isn’t one of the best around, hit with incredible power and spin. Some of his winners off that wing rightly drew gasps from the Australian crowd. His serve, always dangerous but often wayward, found its consistency. One fault with Edmund’s game has been his court coverage and movement on the baseline but he rarely looked out of place in longer rallies, showing great athleticism to keep getting the ball back, often with interest. He also looks more comfortable at the net than he ever has before.

Physically, Edmund looked a completely different player. He had built an unwanted reputation as someone who couldn’t last the distance in 5-set matches, a player who ultimately couldn’t hack it when the going got tough. Often playing in extreme heat, he showed no such frailties over the fortnight. Winning two matches that went all the way proved he had what it takes and clearly did wonders for his confidence. He played a total of 24 sets over six matches during the course of the tournament, only seeming to flag in the final 2.

Indeed, the mental improvements in Edmund’s game have been the most remarkable and are a big reason for why he will break into the world’s top 30 for the first time when the rankings are re-calculated. The impact of his coach Fredrik Rosengren cannot be understated, a man with a contagious winning mentality who has given Edmund that extra 5% that can be so important at the very highest level. As well as making technical changes to improve key features of his game and drawing up specific plans for the new season, Rosengren has transformed Edmund’s mental approach in the same way Ivan Lendl did for Murray. He now looks like he knows he belongs on the court in the biggest stadiums.

It is set to be an exciting season for Edmund. The first target has to be securing his maiden ATP Tour title, whilst he will be hoping to now have a consistent run of tournaments where he gets into the final stages. The next Grand Slam, the French Open, also just happens to be on his favourite clay surface. He will be eager to prove that his efforts in Melbourne weren’t a one off. With Andy Murray out for the next six months, who’s to say Edmund won't be the British number 1 come Wimbledon?

It is remarkable that Edmund is now only the 6th British man to reach a Grand Slam semi-final in the Open era. The heir to Murray’s throne may finally have arrived. 

Find out about Sport Lived's tennis programmes in Melbourne here

Comments are closed for this entry