KYLE EDMUND might have been a professional cricketer but he preferred the responsibility of playing an individual sport.
The 23-year-old’s desire to be his own man probably explains why he seems entirely unaffected by the task of trying to fill the gigantic shoes of Andy Murray.
Today he plays the biggest match of his Wimbledon career when he takes on Novak Djokovic in the third round.
For Edmund, the extra pressure and expectation show he is getting to where he wants to be, and where he has come to firmly believe he belongs.
Tooting his own horn has not been the style of Edmund, one of life’s more unassuming gentlemen, but over the past couple of years he has developed an edge, bristling at suggestions his recent results have been too much of a shock.
His aura on court is also unmistakable now – a swagger to go with the sledgehammer forehand that has become one of the biggest weapons in the game.
Edmund, who was born in Johannesburg but moved to East Yorkshire aged three, did not take up tennis seriously until he was at secondary school but his sporting abilities stood out.
Russ Parker, the head of sport at Pocklington Prep School, remembers Edmund’s track and field talents.
“He wasn’t the most elegant of long-jumpers, he just wanted it more. It was just, ‘I’m not going to be beaten’. He’d win by two or three centimetres, but you knew it was coming. He’d hit the board and he’d fly.”
Edmund was a highly impressive cricketer at that age, and his teachers had no doubt he could go to the top in that sport, but there was a choice to make. Once Edmund began to focus on tennis, it did not take long for him to establish himself as the country’s leading hope of his age. Part of a talented group that won the junior Davis Cup in 2011, he has been the only one to really push on towards the top.
The mantra for Edmund when he turned professional was slow and steady improvement. After near enough halving his ranking every year and making his Davis Cup debut for Britain in the final in 2015, last season was the first time his upward momentum stalled.
A failure to come through close matches was his Achilles heel but he has changed that spectacularly this campaign under his new coaching team of Dan Evans’s former mentor Mark Hilton and demonstrative Swede Fredrik Rosengren.
Rosengren has encouraged Edmund to bring more emotion to the court and that was evident during his breakthrough run to the Australian Open semi-finals, with a five-set victory over Kevin Anderson in the first round the result that kick-started his rapid rise.
A year ago, Edmund lost rather meekly to Gael Monfils in the second round at the All England Club, but Djokovic will certainly not be expecting the same performance today.
Edmund’s forehand remains the X-factor in his game but his serve, backhand and movement have improved to a level where he looks a top-10 player in the making. Of the players ranked above him, only Alexander Zverev is younger.
Away from the court, Edmund lives a quiet life, with his main interests being Liverpool Football Club and motor sport.
While away at tournaments, his spare time is often taken up working out ways to watch Jurgen Klopp’s men online, and many of his friends on tour are fellow Reds.
Edmund came through in straight sets against Bradley Klahn but the prospect of no British players making it into the second week for the first time since 2007 looks very real, as he prepares to face three-time champion Djokovic.
“He’s obviously playing well, winning pretty comfortably in both his matches,” said Edmund.
“But we’ll see. Every match is different.
“He’s one of the best players in the world, one of the best players of all time. There’s always that massive respect.
“I’ll just go out there and do my best and see what happens.”
Djokovic suffered an injury scare during his straight-sets win over Horacio Zeballos.
The Serbian needed treatment for a knee problem but he said: “It seems like it’s nothing major. Hopefully, I’ll see on the practice session how it feels.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be fine.”