At half past five yesterday, Kyle Edmund strode on to Centre Court as the last great hope in whites. The only other Brit left standing at Wimbledon had fallen on this hallowed rectangle just a few minutes before. No pressure, lad.
Two hours later, the 23-year-old was in unchartered territory: the third round at last! This might seem like a modest achievement but modest is probably where we’re at when Andy Murray isn’t around.
Edmund is going to have to face it: he will be compared to the great Scot. Probably endlessly. What’s his game like? Also, what’s his personality like? Edmund kept his under a hat as he had little trouble beating the American qualifier Bradley Klahn 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), 6-2, but the headgear came off as he looked forward to his next match against a certain Novak Djokovic.
This was only his second time on Centre and his first victory there but, although he likes to keep his emotions in check, he said he was thrilled by what he’d done and what’s to come. “You want to be on that stage,” he added. “That’s why you put in all the hard work and countless hours. You want to be playing the best in the world on the biggest stage.”
Djokovic, he said, was obviously one of the best, one of the greatest ever. And standing across the net from him tomorrow, after dreaming about such scenarios as a little kid, would be “surreal”. But hang on, hasn’t he already beaten the super Serb? Yes, in Madrid just two months ago.
Wimbledon is still getting to know this strapping fellow. Edmund’s record has been uninspiring: first-round knockouts four years in a row and only making it to the second in 2017. He always wears a cap, which hides his face, so those watching him for the first time had to assume that he was quite pleased to break Klahn’s serve in the opening game. The early evening sun disappeared and this might have encouraged fans to think they would be granted a better look at their new (and only) contender. But the hat stayed. Maybe one or two of them were getting wistful for a Murray moan, a glower at the team, the full Munchian anguish.
But why? The South African-born, Yorkshire-reared, Bahamas-dwelling Edmund should be allowed his own style. And maybe he had a thought to give the people a bit more of himself but, when Johanna Konta lost, he shelved the plan. In any case he was playing strongly, which was the main thing. This is tennis after all; it’s not slapstick comedy.
The funny thing is that his coach, Fidde Rosengren, is credited with changing Edmund’s style, not just making him more assertive on court but more animated too. Cynics might have sneered: “If this is Kyle animated, I’m glad I missed him before.” But again: this is tennis, it’s not some histrionic soap opera. Internalising his delight obviously works for him. It brought him the first set with no fist-pump at the conclusion. The second set was just as tight, full of whippy shots from both men, Klahn holding his own and at times looking better than his 168 ranking. Then, at 4-4 with Edmund sniffing a break, we got it: The Fist. It was a shock, like the arm shooting out of the ground at the end of horror classic Carrie. But the stands were glad to see it.
Edmund didn’t gain the advantage at that juncture and the set went to a tie-break, which might have been problematic if he’d lost it but he didn’t. And the way he won it might just have clinched the relationship between player and expectant public.
It wasn’t a total love-in but Edmund, considering he’s Edmund, gave quite a lot of himself. Every successful point was greeted with The Fist. He even took off his hat to reveal the top of his head. There were peals of laughter when a stray ball flew above his head – the head we’d had confirmed does have a top – and he caught it. Okay, this wasn’t Golden Rose of Montreux-winning humour. And Edmund didn’t smile as he racked up the points, not even at the end of the tiebreak which he’d just won to love. But it was something. Heck, it was like he was being embarrassingly confessional and showing us all his teenage diaries. And when he’s the great hope in whites he’s kind of in control of the relationship and can play it the way he wants.
Edmund, though no kid, is still a work in progress. “As you play more and more on courts like Centre, you learn about yourself and you feel a little bit more comfortable.”
He put the hat back on and left hoping, as a big football fan, that tomorrow’s match won’t clash with the World Cup quarter-final. “Hopefully the day will be a success for both of us, England and myself.”