At this stage in Kyle Edmund’s career, it is all about managing expectations. But, unlike past generations of British players plying their trade on clay, that does not mean the world No 17 could be heading for a fall today in the third round of the French Open – far from it.
Today Edmund will face the mad, bad and dangerous to know Fabio Fognini, the world No 18 from Italy.
The volatile Fognini, the polar opposite of the quiet, understated Edmund, will have to be on best behaviour today as he has a suspended grand slam ban hanging over him. After being thrown out of the doubles competition at the US Open last year for using “extremely derogatory and misogynistic language” towards a female umpire, he has to keep his nose clean until the end of 2019. Any major transgression in that time and he will be banned from the next two major championships.
Fognini has never played Edmund but Britain’s No 1 knows plenty about the feisty man from Arma Di Taggia. Four years ago, when Edmund was a 19-year-old hopeful trying to break into the Davis Cup team, he was taken as a hitting partner to Naples for Britain’s World Group quarter-final.
Leon Smith, the team captain, had recognised the Yorkshireman’s potential and had taken him along to get some experience. Edmund lapped it up and while he left before the end of the weekend, he watched on TV as Fognini flattened an ailing Andy Murray as Italy went on to win the tie.
“Fognini is a seasoned pro,” Edmund said. “He’s been around a long time, knows what he is doing, has always had a top ranking. He wins matches. It will be a really good test. He’s been playing well on clay. It’s one of those matches where it’s a really good test to see where you are at and a good experience of playing a top player. You learn a lot from those matches. Playing a good clay-court player at the French Open, the clay grand slam, is where you want to be.”
But this is where Edmund must manage those expectations. In January, he reached his first grand slam semi-final with a perfect blend of power and belief.
Five months on, he knows he has it within his reach to match that achievement – but he dare not get ahead of himself. “I try to remind myself that I have to get that out of my head: ‘You reached the semi-finals’,” he said. “Because you have to do it all again. If you think back to Australia, a lot of hard work went into that. It didn’t just happen. It’s the same here. You have to work for it. Look at the first round in Australia: playing a top player, five sets, four hours, break down in the fifth. I could have lost. So it’s small margins. You have to earn it and accept there are going to be some problems. It gives you confidence that you reached the semi-finals, but you have to respect the competition.”
And the competition respects Edmund. John McEnroe has already tipped the Briton to crack the world’s top ten within the next year while Smith can only see an upward trajectory for Edmund, provided he stays fit and healthy.
“He’s going about his business so well,” Smith said.
“It does make a difference him being so level-headed. He is able to have workmanlike qualities. Couple that with the confidence he now has – when he goes on the court you can see it.”
Fognini is strong, passionate and has buckets of talent. He also has six clay-court titles to his name while Edmund has only reached one tour level final so far. But then Fognini has only reached one grand slam quarter-final in 40 previous attempts (in Paris in 2011) while Edmund has reached a major semi-final.
But it is best to manage those expectations for now.