It has been a quiet year in the absence of Andy Murray. Grand slam tournaments have come and gone and still there is no sign of the former world No.1 as he continues his recovery from a hip injury. Life has just not been the same.
But as the French Open bursts into life today, the third consecutive Murray-less major, Cameron Norrie and Kyle Edmund have every right to believe they can fill the gap in the nation’s hopes and expectations.
Both men are in Paris on a career high ranking (Edmund is the world No.17 and Norrie should be No.85 when the new list is published tomorrow), both have had an impressive clay court run so far – Edmund reached his first ATP tour final in Marrakech last month and Norrie reached his first tour semi-final in Lyon two days ago – and together they won the doubles title in Estoril three weeks ago. Such results may not have the same wow factor as Murray’s CV but the career paths of both Norrie and Edmund are on an upward trajectory.
Norrie has only ever won one main draw match at a grand slam event before (to be fair, he has only ever played three) and until February of this year, he had not played a tour level match on the red clay. No matter – Edmund, his senior in age by nine months, believes that the 22-year-old Scot (and his occasional doubles partner) is ready to start winning on his Roland Garros debut.
“It’s similar to me when I was growing up,” Edmund said. “You improve, you get confidence from beating better guys and anyone who got to the semi-final of a tour event is capable of winning grand slam matches. Davis Cup is a great example of that as well. It’s that first hurdle: you see where you’re at. But sure, he’s capable.
“We practised a lot together and we have a good understanding of each other’s games. We practised together a week before Estoril at Queen’s, and obviously at Davis Cup, so it was good to play with him in doubles and not against him.
“I find it makes it a lot easier because you are more relaxed, when you get on with the other person, you can talk about things, not worry about that first communication like you do with a new partner. I found that really helpful, we just kept it relaxed and struck up a good balance that week.”
Norrie should, weather permitting, open his account tomorrow against Pete Gojowczyk, the world No.49 from Germany. Edmund, meanwhile, has to face Alex De Minaur, the 19-year-old Australian who set local hearts racing prior to the Australian Open by reaching the finals in Sydney and the semi-finals in Brisbane. Come the Open, he ran out of gas in the first round but he had proved that he was ready to ruffle a few feathers on the main tour.
Edmund was doing likewise at the sharp end of the Aussie Open, muscling past the likes of Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov to reach his first major semi-final. It was a great run and a huge fillip for his confidence but such success brings with it new pressures: now he is expected to do it all over again at Roland Garros and beyond.
Yet for all his quiet and understated demeanour, Edmund has a rock-solid belief in his own abilities. The outside pressures are just that – outside and, as such, not a concern of his.
“I guess there was expectation from the outside,” he said. “I always have expectation on myself to do well but of course when you are going up the rankings, it’s just the way it works and there’s more expectation to do well and win.
“It’s natural but I realise that so it’s just trying to focus on not letting that get in the way and playing good tennis as much as I can. It’s finding that balance. But I’ve found that since the Australian Open that has been the case: you want to do well yourself and build on that, but others want you to do well, media and stuff, so I’ve had a few months of that I guess.
“It’s just part of it, really. I wouldn’t say it changes what I do in terms of my routine or process or how I go about things, but it’s a positive in the fact that I’m going in the right direction, because if you’re going in the other direction you’re not going to get talked about. It’s going in the right direction and things are positive.”
Those positives include beating Novak Djokovic and David Goffin in Madrid and just coming out on the losing side of a tight two-setter against Alexander Zverev, the world No.3, in the third round in Rome. Having marched into the world’s top 20, Edmund is proving that not only does he belong there but that he not so very far away from the men at the top of the rankings.
“I knew that already,” he said in his quiet but confident way. “I know I’m improving and had some good results. But you want to see improvement in the rankings as well. It’s nice to have some results to show that.”
With no Murray to follow, the French Open may not have quite the same appeal this year but Britain’s new No.1 and Scotland’s latest hope are determined to change all that. Their brave new world begins today.