A sore leg, a wily old opponent and an early trip home on the Eurostar – so ended Kyle Edmund’s clay court season.
He was beaten in the third round of the French Open by Fabio Fognini 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, a disappointing end to a promising and profitable run on the slow, red dirt. From the highs of beating Novak Djokovic and David Goffin at the Madrid Masters and reaching his first tour final in Marrakech, Edmund’s clay season just seemed to fizzle out against the Italian world No.18.
“You can’t expect to play at Mach 10 all the time and hit the highs,” Edmund said. “It’s unrealistic to think that, that you’re going to play at your best all the time, so you have to deal with what you have. Some parts today I was pretty good and some parts today I gave away.
“I had break points in the fifth, just couldn’t get them, and when he had his break points he obviously did. The margin is always very small. And I have won some tight matches this year for sure and this one is a close one I have lost.”
It was a bizarre match from start to finish. Edmund had barely broken a bead of perspiration – but had managed to break serve – when proceedings were halted for eight minutes because a spectator had been taken ill in the stands. That took the fizz out of the opening exchanges as did Edmund losing a run of ten consecutive points. By the time he had stopped that streak, he was serving at 3-4 down and was being given a clinical lesson in how to control matters on a clay court.
Fognini was too crafty, too experienced and too unpredictable for the Yorkshireman. Experts and punters alike had said that Edmund’s path to success was to attack. Fognini knew that, too, so he did not let him get anywhere near the baseline – Edmund was playing off the back foot in almost every rally. He only won another four points in that opening set.
But then in the second set, it was Edmund who set off on a run of 16 consecutive points as Fognini flapped and fluffed. And then just when it looked as if the world No.17 was getting into a nice, winning groove, he called for the trainer to have his left hip seen to. No matter, he still won the second set and the third but that was when Fognini (who had also needed medical attention to have his left ankle strapped to within an inch of total immobility) came into his own.
And so it went on, up and down, for more than three and a half hours. Between them, Edmund and Fognini committed 108 unforced errors to 68 winners – and Edmund only contributed 27 of those winners – while the crowd, those who stayed to the bitter end, did not know what to make of it. It was grim viewing.
“You have to say it’s a positive in the fact that it’s my best sort of clay court run this year,” Edmund said, sounding thoroughly fed up. He did not sound in the mood to look on the positive side of anything.
“I have had some good wins recently in the Masters and it wasn’t a bad tournament here, a couple of good wins and a tough loss against a quality player, and reached my first final. So you have to say I have won more matches this year on the clay than I have before. You have to say I’m improving.
“Obviously now the attention goes into the grass and what I learned from last year, and how I can get better in that way.”
He plans to get back home as soon as possible and take a little time off. He has been on the road for a couple of months and he needs to rest body and soul before getting to grips with the biff-bash-bosh of grass court tennis.
In two weeks he has the newly rebranded Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club and then it is on to Wimbledon where he will be seeded for the first time.
Just to add to the fun, he will be the nation’s standard bearer with all the extra pressure and attention that brings.
“It means that I’m going in the right direction that people maybe expect me to do better,” he said. “I always do my best. That’s all I can say. It’s no different there [at Wimbledon]. I’m going to do the best I can. Whatever happens, happens.”