BEVERLEY’S Kyle Edmund will renew his emerging rivalry with Canadian Denis Shapovalov tonight as he attempts to reach the fourth round of the US Open for a second successive year.
The 22-year-old Yorkshire player has been left to fly the British flag alone following early exits for nationalised trio Johanna Konta, Aljaz Bedene and Cameron Norrie and the injury withdrawal of Andy Murray.
It has been a responsibility that he has flourished in at Flushing Meadows with comfortable straight-set progressions against Robin Haase and Steve Johnson.
In Shapovalov, Edmund faces another man with the weight of a nation on young shoulders and one on a similar upward curve towards the top of the game.
The 18-year-old produced one of the many shocks seen in New York when he knocked out eighth-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for a first time.
It was a performance that befitted one of the game’s burgeoning talents, and one of which Edmund is firmly aware.
Shapovalov’s name may ring a bell with many in the non-tennis circles, and not just for its tongue-twisting nature.
The rising star caught international headlines during his first meeting with Edmund in the Davis Cup World Group first round when he was defaulted for smashing a ball in anger towards umpire Arnaud Gabas.
It was a moment that will be attached to each meeting between the players for years to come.
“I definitely watched it back,” said Edmund. “You can see on the video that my head was down when he hit it. I thought he hit it against the boards at the side where our team was.
“I thought the umpire was going, ‘oh no, what’s he done? You can’t smack a ball like that so close to people’, and then I realised it actually hit him.
“It’s quite funny actually, everyone is in shock, no one is really doing anything. A very weird one. It got a few YouTube hits.
“In a funny way, I think it’s actually helped him mature because since then he has done well. He has really learned from it and moved forward.”
It was a devastating moment for Shapovalov and similar to when Tim Henman was disqualified from Wimbledon in 1996 in front of a home crowd.
But he has reacted in impressive fashion and has set about making headlines on court for all the right reasons.
The teenager has focused on his mental approach since, but does not believe facing Edmund again will bring back bad memories.
“I’ve been working extremely hard on it,” he said. “It’s definitely helped me mature. But I don’t think this match has anything to do with it.
“I’ve apologised constantly before, and I continue to apologise for my actions. It’s something I have to live with. But for me it’s in the past and I’m a different person and a different player now. So it’s a completely new match.”
Shapovalov was ranked 234 then, but he has since risen to 69, only 27 places behind Edmund, after a brilliant run of results that included a run to the semi-finals at the Montreal Masters.
The left-hander, who possesses a fine one-handed backhand, also gained his revenge on Edmund when he knocked him out of Queen’s Club in June when he exposed the Yorkshireman’s movement and over-reliance on his powerful forehand on the slick grass courts.
“He obviously beat me in the grass-court season, but I think he didn’t have a great clay-court season and he got on the grass pretty early, which I think really helped him,” Edmund said.
“He’s been playing well in terms of this run in Montreal and then qualifying, so he is feeling good. It’s going to be a tough match, but at the same time I’m playing well so definitely no reason why I shouldn’t go out there feeling confident.”
Edmund showed his appetite for the big stage on the American hard courts as he eased past home hope Steve Johnson 7-5 6-2 7-6 inside the Louis Armstrong Stadium on the final match of Tuesday evening. The Yorkshireman has been a reserved figure for much of his young career, but revealed he has tried to develop a bolder approach to his game.
“Maybe I’ve been a little bit more animated,” he said.
“I believe my ball-striking is really good, it’s some of the best in the world, but I think where I’m going wrong is a little bit in other areas.
“That’s one of the things I’ve tried to do a little bit more is take the fight to the opponent mentally. Just when I feel it’s an appropriate time to make my feelings heard, I will do it. I won’t do it unnecessarily, but I feel it’s definitely helped me.”