Weekend Interview: Kyle Edmund all set to emerge from the shadow of Andy Murray

Kyle Edmund in action at Eastbourne in the lead up to Wimbledon
Kyle Edmund in action at Eastbourne in the lead up to Wimbledon
0
Have your say

Kyle Edmund could walk through the middle of Leeds on a busy Saturday afternoon with a tennis bag slung over his shoulder and still not get recognised. Which, considering he is one of the sport’s hottest talents, is kind of strange.

Yet that is just the way he likes it.

Emerging force: Beverleys Kyle Edmund, in action against the USAs Donald Young at the AEGON International at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, is happy to adopt a low profile and let his tennis do the talking as he aims for success at the US Open. (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Emerging force: Beverleys Kyle Edmund, in action against the USAs Donald Young at the AEGON International at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, is happy to adopt a low profile and let his tennis do the talking as he aims for success at the US Open. (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Edmund is a quiet, relatively shy character who prefers to let his rackets do the talking.

Unlike Novak Djokovic, he does not do wisecracks or impressions of other players.

Unlike Andy Murray, he is not prone to temper tantrums or sulks.

He does not court the paparazzi by turning up at the opening of an envelope like certain others from Planet Tennis who I could, but will not, mention.

I started going along to David Lloyd in Hull and I really wasn’t serious. I was just playing tennis like a young kid plays tennis, for the enjoyment of hitting a ball, nothing else.

Kyle Edmund

All of which means he tends not to get written about too much.

Again, that is just the way he likes it.

One day, the 22-year old, who lists his home town as Beverley (“nobody’s ever heard of Tickton”), could well win one of the four grand slams up for grabs and become a household name in the process.

Do not take my word for it – the majority of those in the upper echelons of the men’s game agree he has got the potential to do so.

Then his cover really would be blown.

If that happened, Edmund is balanced and charismatic enough to be able to deal with it. Yet, for the time being, he is fine with the way things are.

Less talk, more hits, thank you very much.

So how did this unassuming ‘Yorkshireman’ come to be a major force in a sport dominated by instantly recognisable faces, the kind of global brands capable of stopping traffic from Settle to Seattle?

Born in Johannesburg in 1995, Edmund’s parents moved the family to Yorkshire when he was three, although it was not until Kyle turned 10 that tennis came onto his radar.

“I started going along to David Lloyd in Hull and I really wasn’t serious,” he recalls.

“I was just playing tennis like a young kid plays tennis, for the enjoyment of hitting a ball, nothing else.

“It was actually Richard Plews, the pro-coach there, who spotted something.

“He came up to my mum one day and offered to give me a lesson.

“He ran something called the Richard Plews Tennis School for young players which every year did a trip to Barcelona for a week. He said ‘Do you want to come along?’

“And obviously because I was young and in Hull, a trip to Barcelona was like ‘the thing’. To play on the clay in Spain was massive.

“There were fees that my parents had to pay but they were supportive. They were like: ‘Go for it, it will be good for you’. That was a big step for me because I was taking my tennis to another level.

“Maybe that was when I started to become a bit more serious.

“It wasn’t just playing at David Lloyd anymore.”

Appearing in his first tournament as a kid also meant leaving Hull, albeit for a slightly less glamorous setting than Barcelona.

“It was at the indoor tennis centre at South Leeds in what I think was called the ‘Player Plus’, where you play and your coach sits on court with you. I would have been 10 or 11 and it was more about playing a match than competing in a tournament.

“I played a lot at South Leeds because that, along with Cannons (Tennis Centre) in Hull, were the nearest tournament venues to where I lived. I played indoor series matches there, then county matches, then, as I got older, I started to gradually venture out.”

That venturing out soon turned into something more permanent.

By the time he was 13, Edmund’s talent had landed him a place at the National Sports Centre at Bisham Abbey.

“That meant moving away from home, and you don’t want to move away from home for anything, especially at 13,” he says.

“That was when I started to think: ‘Right, you’re going to do this properly now’. Looking back, I would definitely have liked to spend more time at home.

“At that age, you don’t really know what you want, to be perfectly honest.

“You’re just sort of going with the flow. But I was going to a tennis academy, so the other side of me was saying: ‘You get to play more tennis and not go to school’, because I was being tutored. So that was exciting – and, of course, you don’t have your mum or dad telling you what to do!”

Come 2013, aged 18, Edmund had a world ranking in the 400s and was playing Wimbledon, appearing in no less than five separate events at the All England Club that year spread across both the junior and adult draws.

He also became a practice partner for Andy Murray as the Scotsman closed in on his first Wimbledon men’s singles title.

“He (Edmund) is a hard worker,” Murray told me that summer.

“He wants to be a professional tennis player. He puts in the effort on the court and in the gym.

“That’s one of the most important things.

“If he keeps doing those things right, then he will give himself the best chance of becoming a very good professional tennis player.”

Edmund kept doing those things – and then some.

He finished 2016 ranked 45 in the world, exactly the same ranking he finds himself at going into this year’s US Open which starts on Monday.

It was at Flushing Meadows this time last year that Edmund recorded the best run of his career so far in a grand slam, defeating Richard Gasquet and John Isner in the first and third rounds, respectively, before losing to defending champion Djokovic in round four.

He may regard his favourite tournament as Wimbledon but if Edmund is going to excel at a grand slam, then the suspicion is his best chance of silverware will be on the hard courts of New York city or the clay of Paris.

Those are where his standout results have been so far, by a country mile, although Edmund denies he has any aversion to grass.

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that I don’t like it,” says Edmund, who has been drawn against No 32 seed Robin Haase in the first round.

“It’s just that we play on hard (courts) pretty much 70 per cent of the year, so I’ll feel more comfortable because I spend more time on it.

“As for clay, I just naturally sort of adapted a little bit quicker.

“I’m not playing for popularity, image or anything like that. I’m playing to win and playing for myself or my country if I play in the Davis Cup.

“That’s what’s important. It’s about the tennis.”

He has shown his form for the hard court season with how well he has done in North Carolina this week.

Edmund played Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur in the semi-finals of the Winston-Salem Open overnight after coming from a set down to defeat American Steve Johnson 5-7 6-3 6-3 on Thursday night.

Edmund, who needed to qualify for the event, started slowly and lost the first set before requiring a medical timeout for a shoulder injury.

That did not hold him back though as he broke three times over the next two sets to seal the win and build his momentum going into the US Open.