The Fantastic Four had swooped down on the petrified debenture-holders of Wimbledon and saved them from a plague of flying ants. These less than timorous beasties had laughed at attempts to shoo them with Savile Row boaters and high-quality napkins but were crushed by the flying rackets of Andy Murray, Johanna Konta, Heather Watson and Aljaz Bedene. So, could Kyle Edmund turn the Fantastic Four into the Famous Five?
The ants removed, the aforementioned quartet looked around the green and pleasant confines of SW19 and decided they would all take up residence in the third round. Murray usually does this but fellow Brits have been noticeable by their absence from the later stages. No pressure, then, Kyle.
We should stress that no insects were deliberately taken out as the home front achieved a 20-year high at the tournament, sparking headlines like “Four-midable!”, although Konta confessed to swallowing at least one bug. Edmund, though, was going to have to gulp hard and down a top 20 seed for only the second time in a Slam.
Frenchman Gael Monfils was seeded No 15, the 20-year-old Yorkshireman back at No 50. He strode onto Centre Court, eyes down, no waving. In the warm-up he almost ba-roomed a ball clean out of the arena. Nerves? The pre-Andy era of British tennis wasn’t so long ago. It was best summed up by the Aussie wit Clive James who, in his TV reviews, would log how quickly our great hopes in whites would exit the competition and pop up in the commentary box.
In the third game Edmund caught another off the edge. “That one’s got snow on it,” Bill McLaren would have said. But he was steady on his own serve, not allowing the Frenchman too many chances with his mean double-firsted backhand. Would that be his best chance? Murray, in craving further Brit advances, had told his compatriots not to be satisfied with reaching the opening rounds. Edmund had just described his first-ever Wimbers victory as a “dream come true”. And ultimately he had to be happy with that, losing this one 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 6-4.
The first set went with serve. At 4-4 Edmund achieved three break points, one coming via what was fast becoming his trademark: a shot off the frame only this time keeping within the confines of the court. But they all slipped away. The set went to a tie-break and Monfils – typical French, the court is a canvas and he likes to paint his shots – romped it.
There had been no breaks in the first set but Monfils, speedy for such a big man, grabbed one at the start of the second. It was difficult to detect Edmund’s mood under the brim of his hat, the headgear definitely required in the extreme heat. Edmond had a glimmer of another break in the eighth game but Monfils – whose serve during the afternoon reached 136mph – held him at bay. A couple of times the Brit, who has a clobbering forehand, saw the vast, rolling plains of the court and got too excited.
Two sets down, match over? Maybe not quite. Edmund immediately gained an advantage in the third set to lead 3-0 as Monfils, always keen to entertain, went for the spectacular with a Meadowlark Lemonesque leap which didn’t produce any hoop dreams. Three unforced errors, though, denied Edmund a second break and Monfils just had too many arrows in his quiver, sauntering to five games in a row to see out the match and deny Britain a fifth participant in the third round.
Afterwards Edmund said he loved the experience of Centre Court, made some mistakes, promised to learn from them. “Each set I sort of felt I had a bit of a chance,” he added. “I got my game out on court, which is something I wanted to do, and just [showed] a bit of lack of maturity [for] this stage. A few shots in certain points or match situations just needed to be better.
“I’m only 20, I don’t know all the answers but this was a great match to learn from.”