Edmund sets sights on taking lead role for Britain

Ask Kyle Edmund for an explanation as to why there is such a vacuum in ability from the top to the bottom of British men’s tennis and his response flashes across the net with all the conviction of a powerful passing forehand.

“It doesn’t bother me because I haven’t got a professional ranking. I can’t do anything about it,” says the 16-year-old, dismissively, ruthlessly.

“All I know is I want to make it to the top and all you can do is give 100 per cent, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

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Many have tried to achieve such a feat, and the majority have failed. Andy Murray stands alone in British tennis, with a smattering of James Wards far down the senior rankings providing wholehearted, if limited support to the Lawn Tennis Association’s claims that the sport in this country is on the up.

Delve a little deeper, however, and those claims appear at last to be coming true.

For British boys tennis is arguably the strongest in Europe. They carry the title of continental champions and a three-boy team headed by Edmund are bound for Mexico today in a bid to finish higher than the fourth place they achieved two years ago in the Junior Davis Cup.

Individually they are getting stronger with each passing grand slam. When Murray won the US Open boys title in 2004 he was a lone wolf. The pack of 2011 is infinitely stronger.

Stockport’s Liam Broady, 17, was a junior Wimbledon finalist this summer while Londoner Oliver Golding, 17, went one better by winning the US Open title earlier this month, having defeated Bolton’s George Morgan, 18, in the semi-final. Morgan also reached the Australian Open boys final back in January.

Completing a trio of Britons in the last four at Flushing Meadows was Yorkshireman Edmund, the youngest of the quartet but regarded by many in the LTA to be the most talented and the teenager most likely to provide the country with their next great hope.

“To put it into perspective,” says LTA head of boys tennis Martin Weston, “getting to the semi-finals when you are two years younger than Golding/Morgan and still having two years left to play at that level, is a significant achievement for Kyle.

“But it is typical of a lad who shows a lot of extreme potential in both his game which is aggressive, physical and powerful, and also in his personality, which is extremely dedicated, focused and mature.

“Kyle has a huge number of abilities and we have great optimism.”

So let’s familiarise ourselves with Edmund. He was born in Johannesburg to South African parents before moving with his family to Beverley, East Yorkshire, when he was three.

He attended Lyndhurst School in Pocklington and then Beverley Grammar. At the age of 13, after honing his game on the local courts of the Seven Corners Lane and the David Lloyd Centre in Hull he was whisked away to combine studies and tennis at Bisham Abbey in Buckinghamshire.

A matter of weeks before his run to the US Open semi-finals and just days after sitting his final GCSE exam, Edmund moved further south to Roehampton, London, to train full-time under the LTA umbrella.

And all this just six years after first picking up a tennis racket at a school camp; all in an age when the best players are supposedly those slicing backhands before they are out of nappies.

“I’ve had to learn quickly,” admits Edmund. “I’ve always been playing catch up but now I feel that with my junior world ranking (27), I have caught up.

“When people are 10 in say Italy, they’re playing tournaments regularly and playing full-time, while I was still in school.

“So initially I didn’t have that physical or mental technique.

“But you mature and learn quickly to the point where it’s just about beating the guy across the net from you.

“Playing as much as possible is the key. And now I’m getting that opportunity.

“I’ve noticed a little bit of a difference since finishing school. At the end of a school day you’re mentally tired and then have to go and pick up a racket and play tennis.

“This way, it is 100 per cent concentration on tennis. The intensity of my training has increased.”

Edmund played in all four junior grand slams this year and helped the British team to victory in the European Cup.

After New York where he revelled in being able to ‘go to the Arthur Ashe Stadium and watch the big guys in action’, he joined Murray and the senior Davis Cup squad for their match in Glasgow.

He says: “I didn’t really hit at the Davis Cup, but I was around the players, just getting a feel for it.

“Andy is approachable. If you ask him or any of the senior guys questions they give you their opinions.

“It’s really good that they find time for you, especially sopmeone like Andy, because he knows what you have to do to get to the top. And it’s my job to get whatever valuable experience out of him I can glean.”

The responsibility of Weston and the LTA is to continue nurturing Edmund and his fellow alumni, integrating them sensibly into senior tennis while allowing them to flourish in the junior rankings.

“It’s our job to keep Kyle’s and everyone’s feet on the ground,” says Weston. “We have done a lot of research on understanding the transition from junior to senior.

“The average age of a player in the top 100 is 25/26. The days of Wimbledon champions aged 17 are done with. It takes four-and-a-half years to go from the top of the junior game to the top of the senior game. The focus for us is to improve Kyle’s physicality and create a workmanlike attitude. We have great optimism that Kyle could make that transition.”

British boys filling the void

Kyle Edmund

Age: 16

Height: 188cm

Weight: 78kg

Handed: Right

Born: Johannesburg, SA

Education: Lyndhurst School, North Yorks; Beverley Grammar; Bisham Abbey, Buckinghamshire.

Tennis career: Started at Seven Corners Lane, Beverley, then David Lloyd Centre in Hull, Bisham Abbey and now full-time at the LTA at Roehampton.

Coaches: Richard Plews at Hull, now John Black.

British junior ranking: 4

World junior ranking: 27

Career highlights: US Open boys semi-finals and played in all four junior slams in 2011. Helped British juniors win European Cup and leads Junior Davis Cup team in Mexico this week.

Oliver Golding

Age: 17

Born: London

Honours: US Open boys champions, Wimbledon and French Open junior semi-finalist, world junior No 2.

Liam Broady

Age: 17

Born: Stockport

Honours: Junior Wimbledon finalist.

George Morgan

Age: 18

Born: Bolton

Honours: US Open semi-finalist, Under-18 Orange Bowl winner.