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Britain’s next tennis star

Great Britain’s first victory in the Davis Cup (men’s team tennis) for 79 years was without question one of the sporting highlights of 2015. For British number three, Kyle Edmund, being part of the team was an amazing experience. Britain beat Belgium 3–1 in November 2015 in Ghent to secure the cup. Kyle recalls: “Being part of that final weekend in Belgium is one of the best experiences I will have as a tennis player. I had been involved with the squad for a while, on the sidelines and as a practice hitter and getting to know the people around the team. I had a chance of playing several times before that but just missed out for various reasons. To play for the first time in the final on a big stage, it couldn’t have worked out any better. It is one of the best feelings to be involved in the Davis Cup final.”

Edmund was first on court against Belgium’s David Goffin, whose world top 20 ranking made him a firm favourite. Edmund made a dream start winning the first two sets 6–3, 6–1 before losing the next three 2–6, 1–6, 0–6. “I thought I performed well but obviously lost in the end. I went on confident in myself because two weeks previously I had played in South America in a challenger event and I beat some good players out there. So I knew I was in a good place mentally with my game and I have always liked playing on clay. On paper and looking at the match-ups, I definitely wasn’t expected to win, because of my ranking and experience. I surprised some people. I gave it my best shot and in the first two sets I was playing well, very high standard tennis, and it’s a shame that I couldn’t keep going like that. But the positive was that I was able to go out and play the first two sets like I did. The fact that we won and also me being on court, playing singles in a Davis Cup final with all those people watching and supporting, made me grow and made me learn a lot – for example, what I was like under pressure. But the feeling coming away from it was a positive one because the team won.”

Kyle started playing tennis when he was ten. His sister used to have swimming lessons, conveniently at the David Lloyd Centre, and Kyle used to run around. Just to keep him busy, his mum signed him up for tennis. And rest is history. He made rapid progress and within a year or two was playing tennis before school. Then at 13 a big decision had to be made. He was offered the chance to move to Bisham Abbey in Berkshire for intensive tennis tuition. That was effectively a decision to go full-time in tennis and give it a real go. Kyle, with the support of his family, decided to accept the offer.

By the time he was 16, Kyle was playing the junior events at the Grand Slams, and immediately reached the semi-final of the Junior US Open and also helped Great Britain win the 2011 Junior Davis Cup tournament for the first time after beating Italy in the final in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The following year he and Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal won the doubles at the US Juniors. In 2013, he reached the semi-final of Junior Wimbledon (singles and doubles) and the quarter-final of the French Open singles and again with Frederico Ferreira Silva won the doubles at the French.

Edmund’s assessment of that period is: “Reaching the semis at the US Open when I was 16 was quite a big one for me as I was … beating good players who were older than me. It definitely wasn’t expected for me to go that far at that time. The real successes were winning the two doubles titles and the Junior Davis Cup but I would definitely say that winning the Junior Davis Cup was my best junior experience.”

He started playing senior events in 2012 when he was just 17 and had a world ranking of 568. That had dropped to 102 in 2015 and he is currently 82 in the world. He plays 25 to 30 tournaments a year, so more or less spends half the year playing tournaments and half the year at home practising, with the odd week off. Which tournament he plays is determined by his world ranking at the time. With his current ranking he can pretty much get into any tournament he wants, as opposed to when he had to start off at the bottom playing mainly Futures events. Even the Challenger Tour (the level below the main tour) is worldwide. Kyle’s five victories in Challenger events have come in USA, Argentina, Italy and Hong Kong.

He is pleased with his progress and sets himself realistic goals. “In terms of a ranking there is no target set, just to do as well as I can wherever that takes me. As long as I know I’ve given my best, the ranking will be a true reflection of that. It would be nice to finish around top 50 – if I achieve that it will be a good year and I think it’s doable. When I am 24, 25, 26 I would expect to be peaking – not at 20 to 21. So each year the goal has got to be to improve my game and to improve physically. And if your game improves, the results will come and my ranking will move up.” His emphasis at the moment is on improving his game and thinking about what things will help him to play better.

In the Miami Open earlier this year, Edmund beat Jiří Veselý of the Czech Republic – who was ranked 35 in the world in 2015 – 6–4, 5–7, 7–6 and met the world number one, Novak Djokovic in the next round, losing 3–6, 3–6. Playing that type of match is what it is all about for Edmund: “To play the world number one in Miami was a great experience for me, something I learned a lot from, so it was definitely one of my highlights. As a kid playing tennis, you always dream about playing on the tour and now I am fulfilling that. That I have played in every Grand Slam in the senior event is something that you don’t take for granted. You realise how well you done and where you have come from.”

He has never played a competitive match with Andy Murray, but has practised with him many times and has a high regard for the British Number One. “I haven’t played Andy but the fact that I’ve been around him for a long time and experienced a lot with him definitely helped me, particularly practising with him. Off the court as well he’s given me a lot of support, so I am very fortunate.”

Edmund has played at Wimbledon for the past three years, losing in the first round each time. Last year he lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov 6–7, 2–6, 1–6. For him, Wimbledon is a unique event: “Once you have played at Wimbledon, the grounds of the All England club, you realise why it is so special. It is once a year, and even in the build-up you’re getting excited. Combining the greatest tournament in the world with the home support is a double hit. It’s something you don’t experience at any other tournament, so when it comes round it’s always exciting. Remember we only get to play in Britain four weeks of the year – the rest of the time we’re abroad.”

Being a bit old-fashioned, I asked Kyle why the traditional Wimbledon ‘Serve and Volley’ game had disappeared. He not only indulged me but educated me. “That’s a good question but I have only ever known the game as it is now. I think over the years the balls have become slower so when the ball is lower, it is harder for a volleyer to hit through the court and come in. When you come in you want to be in a commanding position. You don’t want to come into the net in a defensive position because you will get passed very easily. Also the modern players are probably stronger and move better. The top players can make a pass from anywhere on the court. Take someone like Djokovic who is unbelievably strong and flexible, and if he can get a racket to a ball anywhere, you are in danger of being passed because he is so incredibly talented. That’s why I think there is a reluctance of players to come in to the net because they fear that they will be passed.”

Still only 21, Kyle Edmund has already achieved a great deal. With continued hard work and application, there seems no reason why he cannot continue to progress towards the elite of the sport.