Is Kyle Edmund Britain’s best hope at Wimbledon 2018?

Brian Oliver on the 23-year-old Briton who has beaten Novak Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Andy Murray this year

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15:  Kyle Edmund of Great Britain celebrates a point in his first round match against Gilles Simon of France during day three of the Aegon Championships at Queens Club on June 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images for LTA)

At every Wimbledon this century the home favourite has been Tim Henman or Andy Murray.

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Apart from an eight-week blip by Greg Rusedski 12 summers ago they are the only two men since 1999 to have been ranked Britain’s number one tennis player – and they have been rewarded not just with titles and riches, but with an OBE and a knighthood respectively.

This year is different. Murray was injured at last year’s Wimbledon and was out for nearly a year. That allowed Kyle Edmund, an unassuming 23-year-old who was born in Johannesburg and raised in a Yorkshire village, to take the number one spot.

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He is unlikely to relinquish it any time soon after his recent run of good results, including an emphatic straight-sets victory over his friend and mentor Murray at Eastbourne in June.

It may have been only the third game in Murray’s tentative comeback but the Scot, eight years older than Edmund, knew he was well beaten by a man who overpowered him.

“In the past 12-18 months Kyle has done fantastic things and is improving all the time,” said Murray, who has practised with Edmund many times and helped him to improve when he was a teenager.

Edmund said, “To beat him shows I have improved a lot. A win like that definitely gives you confidence.”

Despite that victory, which was underplayed in the media because it clashed with a big day of World Cup football, Edmund remains unknown to those viewers who watch tennis only during Wimbledon fortnight. But to keen followers of the game he is a rare talent, one good enough to emulate Henman’s 15 career titles and a possible contender, like Murray, for Grand Slam success.

Who says so? Rafael Nadal and John McEnroe, among others. Edmund has already accrued £1m in prize money this year and has risen to number 18 in the world.

That does not surprise Nadal, who said after Edmund reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open back in January, “I really believe in his potential. He’s going to have a great year.”

At the French Open, where Edmund went to the third round, McEnroe said, “He’s got a great shot to get into the world top ten in the next year. He’s improved all parts of his game and is a lot fitter, a lot more confident.”

You would never know it, talking to Edmund, who prides himself on being “hard-working, competitive and humble”. He does not do swagger or hyperbole or make the news for the wrong reasons, as so many sportsmen do.

The most telling recent headline about Edmund, just before the grasscourt season began, was ‘No girlfriends, no alcohol, no tantrums – how Kyle Edmund keeps his cool’.

Edmund, an all-round sports nut whose favourite topic of discussion appears to be Liverpool FC, talks of the “sacrifice” needed to reach the top level but he recognises that he is very, very lucky to be doing what he does. He constantly expresses his gratitude to his parents, and to Murray.

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He really does take every game as it comes, showing no more emotion after a Grand Slam quarter-final than he does a first-round match at any run-of-the-mill tournament.

He is already doing just that, taking things one step at a time, for Wimbledon.

Edmund, a 6ft 2in right-hander with a huge forehand, has yet to go beyond the second round at the most famous grass court tournament in the world. Asked what would constitute a successful tournament this year, he told Radio Times, “Being seeded this year will give me some advantages, but I will still need to play my best tennis to win matches on grass.

“I can’t say exactly what results would make me happy. I haven’t had much success at Wimbledon so far and for sure I will try to reach my personal best. I need to take it one match at a time and hope for the best.”

Most of Edmund’s successes before this summer – the highlights were the run to the semi-finals in Australia, beating Novak Djokovic in Madrid in May and being part of Britain’s Davis Cup triumph in 2015 – have come on clay or hard courts.

While the most famous clay courts are in Paris, Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid, Edmund first played on the surface in Goole, Yorkshire. “Those were the nearest clay courts when I was playing in Beverley,” he said.

He is emphatic about the importance of honing his game on the slower surface.

“Clay gives you the basics of the game, it gives you a fraction more time on your shots and gives you a chance to understand the game better.

“Since there is this little extra time on clay, the rallies are longer and movement always makes a big difference. Learning how to slide is key if you want to build your game on the red dirt. There are so many factors that can change the conditions of a match on clay. Wind, temperature, rain, heavier balls, slower courts… You have to be clever to be successful on clay.”

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He keeps working, keeps improving, and Britain’s Davis Cup captain Leon Smith can see the benefits. Smith is not alone in believing Edmund’s “best tennis is yet to come” and said, “What are the most important things to get better? Serve and return. And those two things are what he has improved.”

He showed it in Eastbourne, beating Murray 6-6, 6-4 and consistently serving 20mph faster than the Scot.

The Edmund family – mother Denise, businessman father Steve, who is originally from Maesteg in Wales, and younger sister Kelly – moved back to Britain from South Africa when Kyle was three. He lived in Tickton, near Beverley in Yorkshire’s East Riding, and first showed his sporting talent in swimming and cricket.

He once hit a six straight through a window at his grammar school in Beverley. “I don’t think my science teacher was too happy with that,” he said.

Denise booked him some tennis lessons to stop him being bored at home, and he never looked back. He was part of Britain’s team who won the Junior Davis Cup for the first time in 2011 and has left his teammates in the shade since then. Luke Bambidge and Evan Hoyt, his two fellow players, have between them won around £4,000 in singles prize money this year compared to Edmund’s near-£1m.

The match on Eastbourne’s 8,000-capacity Centre Court immediately after Edmund’s win over Murray was a men’s doubles featuring Bambidge – watched by just a couple of hundred people.

Edmund is in a different world to his junior teammates. When he was 17, he moved to the Lawn Tennis Association’s training centre in London, and he made his senior Davis Cup debut in the biggest game of all, the final in Belgium three years ago, which Britain won.

He has beaten plenty of good players in 2018, which is why he is rated one of the top 20 players in the world. He has relocated to the Bahamas because it fits better with his schedule, and is working well under his Swedish coach, Fredrik Rosengren.

None of his success would have happened without his family, he said.

“Of course, having the support of the LTA and someone like Andy (Murray) has had an immense impact on my career,” he said. “When talking about support from people who have been there with me since I started playing tennis, my family is the most important influence I had. My parents and sister are still there with me 24/7, in good and bad moments. They came to Paris to support me.

“Our family values are about being hard-working, competitive and humble. Family means the world to me and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

The home crowd at Wimbledon could give him some welcome additional support in the next fortnight, though. Edmund has spoken about the ”amazing” atmosphere at the Liverpool-Manchester City Champions League semi-final, which he attended.

He said, “Although tennis is an individual sport and it can’t be compared to football, there are a lot of ways tennis players draw energy from outside of the court. I have had the pleasure of experiencing some amazing support over the last couple of years. We’ve enjoyed incredible moments in the Davis Cup and the fans were something else. Wimbledon is always special for all British players, but I am still waiting for my success in the All England Club so, hopefully, I will be able to tell you how it really looks like.”

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Wimbledon begins on Monday 2nd July. Here’s our guide to how to watch Wimbledon on TV: BBC, Eurosport and YouTube coverage