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Weekend Interview: Kyle Edmund maturing into a grand slam contender

Kyle Edmund of Great Britain reacts during his match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on day six of the Nature Valley International at Devonshire Park. (Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Kyle Edmund of Great Britain reacts during his match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on day six of the Nature Valley International at Devonshire Park. (Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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Meet Kyle Edmund and it is as if nothing has changed.

There is still that humility, the youthful features that could see him pass for 16 instead of a man of 23, the desire to talk about football as much as tennis if not more so.

Best of british: In the last six months Kyle Edmund has risen to the status of British No 1 but he has yet to conquer the grass courts of Wimbledon. (Picture: Press Association)

Best of british: In the last six months Kyle Edmund has risen to the status of British No 1 but he has yet to conquer the grass courts of Wimbledon. (Picture: Press Association)

And yet everything has changed.

A year ago Edmund could have walked through the middle of Leeds on a Saturday afternoon in his tennis gear and gone unnoticed. Not any more. He does not court publicity – it is just not in his nature and, anyway, he is a Yorkshireman.

But when your results on court propel you into the world’s top 20, and to the British No 1 spot, then there is only so much you can do to maintain a low profile.

True, Andy Murray’s 11-month absence from the sport has done much to usher Edmund, born in South Africa but raised in Tickton near Beverley, into the spotlight.

I’m always going to be from Tickton. That’s where my parents are and a lot of my friends and it’s where I grew up.

Kyle Edmund

Yet there is more to it than that.

His form throughout 2018 has confirmed what many people including the great John McEnroe have long thought: that he has the potential to become a Grand Slam champion.

It could have happened back in January at the Australian Open.

On that occasion Marin Cilic proved too strong for Edmund in the semi-finals, winning in straight sets.

Kyle Edmund of Great Britain celebrates during his men's singles match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia during Day Four of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queens Club  (Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Kyle Edmund of Great Britain celebrates during his men's singles match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia during Day Four of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queens Club (Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Of course success is never a guarantee in sport.

Many a decent tennis player – Tim Henman, Sheffield’s own Roger Taylor to name just two – have found Grand Slam titles elusive over the years. However, given the upward trajectory of Edmund’s career it would be a major surprise if the opportunity to win one of the game’s big four trophies did not present itself soon.

With the wins have come riches.

Edmund does not travel with an entourage, but can afford to employ two coaches and the very best sporting consultants from specialist fields on an ad-hoc basis. The ATP media guide no longer lists Edmund’s residence as Beverley (“no one’s ever heard of Tickton”). Instead it is the Bahamas.

That has been the case now since the end of last year, a move brought on by the desire to train in a warm weather climate during the off-season.

And, just perhaps, a low tax regime. In reality though the road remains home.

“That’s just the way it is as a tennis player,” says Edmund, who will face Alex Bolt, of Australia, in the first round at this year’s Wimbledon. “You have to travel. You’re never in one place for too long.

“There’s an awful lot of airports and hotels involved. It probably isn’t as glamorous as a lot of people think it is.

“There have been changes, but I don’t feel like I’ve changed.

“You want to become better, you want to improve, and you try and do whatever you can to enable you to do that.

“You look at Andy (Murray). To get the results that he has over the years he had to do some things differently. He’s the best ever British player and he’s been a big help to me since I was 17.

“You’re going to look at what he’s doing, like going to Miami (where Murray had a base for several years) and learn from that.

“I’m always going to be from Tickton. That’s where my parents are and a lot of my friends and it’s where I grew up.

“It’s where I started playing the game – well, while I lived there. Playing at David Lloyd in Hull it was about having fun, just hitting balls, nothing else.

“I would have liked to have spent more time there, but that wasn’t really an option once I started competing. Even at that stage you have to travel and go wherever the tournaments are and whatever opportunities that come along.”

Despite Edmund’s rise into the upper echelons of the game there is, however, an elephant in the room, especially with Wimbledon upon us.

Whisper it, but his record at the All England Club verges on calamitous. For four years running – 2013 to 2016 – he lost in the first round of the men’s singles without so much as winning a single set.

In 2017 he fared slightly better, beating fellow Briton Alex Ward at the first hurdle before exiting to Gael Monfils, of France.

Some of those early experiences on the hallowed grass courts can be written off now as part of his learning process.

After all Edmund was only 18 in 2013 and appearing in his first Grand Slam event.

With success, however, comes expectation.

This year he is the No 21 seed. A player of that stature should be looking to reach the third round at the very least.

For that to happen Edmund is going to have to break new ground.

“I actually really like Wimbledon,” says Edmund who, should he get through the first two rounds, has a potential third-round match with 12-time major champion Novak Djokovic lying in wait.

“It’s probably my favourite tournament of all because you’re playing at home in front of your own supporters, which only ever happens for four or five weeks of the year.

“A lot of it is how you adapt to different surfaces. We play on hard (courts) probably around 70 per cent of the time, so obviously you’re going to get a lot more experience on that.

“I happen to adapt to clay pretty quickly.

“You go from playing on hard to clay to grass in a relatively short space of time. We get an extra week now (between the French Open and Wimbledon), which can only help with your preparation.”

His preparation for the tournament has been mixed, encapsulated by his victory over Murray at Eastbourne this week before defeat in three sets to Mikhail Kukushkin in the quarter-final 24 hours later.

“I feel like I’m playing the best I have played on grass, so that’s one positive,” he said in the wake of the defeat.

“But you always look at matches you lose and think, ‘why am I not winning them?’.

“Then you identify things you can get better at or things you’re not doing so well.

“It’s definitely been better in past years, but of course there is so much more to improve on. We always try and keep that in perspective.

“Thursday was another thing to learn from, especially on the grass court and how the match panned out.”

In a year of massive changes there is one constant. Look away now fans of Yorkshire’s football teams, but Edmund’s loyalty to Liverpool Football Club remains undiminished.

“I’ve always been mad about them ever since I was young,” he confesses. “Had the posters, curtains, bedsheets, you name it, anything to do with Liverpool or (Steven) Gerrard.

“When I watch them I’m completely different to how I am on a tennis court.

“When I’m out there I like to keep it together. You’re in control, so it’s not really a case of being nervous. When it’s something you’re not in control of, like watching football, I just find it really difficult.

“I played a lot of sport when I was a kid. I was pretty decent at football, although I was probably better at cricket.

“Then I started going along to David Lloyd when I was 10 and that was that.

“But I’ve always loved football. It’s sort of my escape.”