Kyle Edmund, the British number 3 ranked 89 in the world, played at the ATP main tour event in Estoril, Portugal, this week where he reached the second round. The day after his defeat to Benoit Paire, the world number 20, I had a chance to talk with him about that match, his season so far, and what he takes from playing Novak Djokovic and practising with Andy Murray.
Edmund lost a tight match to Paire on Wednesday night 6-7 6-3 6-3. The score in the third set belies a match that could have gone either way, with Edmund converting just 1 of 7 break points from four of the Frenchman’s service games.
“I think looking back on it you definitely could have said points here and there, especially in the third [set]. I think every service game he had, I had a break point. So the opportunities were there but I didn’t take them. So that was the disappointment, I created them. I thought I played reasonably well. He had a very good backhand [Paire hit a staggering 18 backhand winners in the match], so obviously the aim was to try and get it off the backhand but then mix it when I could in there to keep him honest. And I thought the game plan went reasonably well.”
Following a successful autumn in 2015, Edmund started the year ranked 102 which has allowed him to play a mixture of ATP main tour events as well as the second tier Challenger events. His highlights so far this year have been his first top 50 win (against Martin Klizan), a run to the quarter finals of the opening event of the year in Doha, where he lost to Tomas Berdych; and a second round defeat to Novak Djokovic in Miami. Estoril was Edmund’s second clay court event in consecutive weeks following a second round showing in Bucharest. He took stock of his year to date.
“I think from last week in Bucharest, my first tournament on clay, there’s definitely an improvement this week in how I played. This week I thought I played a decent match against Gimeno Traver [Edmund defeated the world number 143, 6-3 7-5]. Last night [against Paire] I played pretty well as well, just taking opportunities, but I’ve had two good wins in two weeks against Rosol [ranked 61] and Gimeno Traver and I’ve lost to two good players – Garcia-Lopez who’s obviously a clay specialist very experienced [ranked 37], and then Paire who’s extremely talented and 20 in the world for a reason.
“If I look back at my four last losses back to Indian Wells – I lost to Pella who’s 40 in the world, [where I was] serving for the match, then obviously lost to Novak, then last week to Garcia-Lopez and now Paire. So, the guys I’m losing to are top players and I’ve always felt like I’ve had my chances, certainly in two of them. Garcia-Lopez and Novak, they were straight sets and more comfortable. But it shows I’m improving and I’ve got to take positives from that.”
Edmund’s performance against Djokovic in the second round of the Masters 1000 event in Miami was very creditable. Although losing 6-3 6-3, Edmund impressed the world number one on the court with his heavy forehand, but also with his mature attitude.
“I really enjoyed the experience. You know it was an honour to play the world number one first of all. I just enjoyed the occasion because after a slow start I did get my game out there and really took it to him which is what I wanted to do. I was winning points on my terms. Obviously he was too strong in the end. But the crowd getting involved, you’re on centre court, playing the world number 1, it’s a good occasion and a great experience, especially at my age you haven’t have that experience so much so it’s good to get that.”
“The losses [this year] are tough opponents so it’s showing I’m improving. As long as you keep improving and learning from your mistakes that’s the important thing.”
Edmund’s ranking progress is clear, showing tangible improvement from year to year, and in the last three years he has also picked up 11 top 100 wins along the way and that first top 50 win.
Kyle Edmund: Ranking evolution and wins vs Top 50 / 100 players
Edmund’s steady and persistent improvement in the rankings is mirrored in his thoughtful and mature approach to his game and his career: that solid foundations now will give him a good chance to play to the best of his abilities for longer.
“Especially at this age  it’s constantly [about] trying to get my game better, so thinking long-term. I’ve always tried to think long-term as much as possible especially at this age. As you start to get older there comes a point where you can’t think long-term because you’re already in the long-term. You’re at an age where you need to be peaking because physically you’ll be ready. But you take it step-by-step. I’m top 100 now, the next goal is going to be top 50, then that’s getting me into literally every tournament in the world basically. So that’s the goal now but it becomes harder and harder to move up the rankings as well, but with these events it doesn’t take much to have 1 or 2 good weeks, good tournaments, and you’re right up there. I feel like I’m reasonably close at the minute.”
Following his match with Edmund, Djokovic considered that the Brit had “the potential to step up and get to the top of the men’s game.” The ATP has also invested in Edmund and 13 of his peers, all aged 21 or under, in the so-called #NextGen campaign that seeks to promote the future generation of winners after the Big 4 have zipped up their racquet bags. Recognition such as this has not gone to Edmund’s head. On the contrary, he appears very much a level headed individual and his thoughtful articulation leaves the impression of someone who is confident, single-minded and determined to get as far as his abilities will take him.
“We’re involved in the Next Gen, that’s what it’s labelled as. For me I think it’s the same for everyone else – you just focus on yourself individually. It’s not really ‘we’re coming up together’: tennis is such a selfish individual sport that you just have to look at yourself and concentrate on yourself getting better and I think everyone’s obviously done that, that’s why we’ve improved. It doesn’t matter what your age is, it’s about your level. If your level is good enough then you deserve to be top 100. If your level is good enough to be top 20 you will be. Experience helps, but you can’t say ‘oh he’s older than me, that’s why…’ You just gotta play and use what you got to get there.”
Edmund faces tough competition to get to the top. The average age of the top 50 is 28 years old, showing that if he is to break though he will need to do so against seasoned professionals. This brings us to the question of whether the best way of doing this is to accentuate his strengths or seek to eliminate his weaknesses.
“Both, really. When you look at weaknesses you have to get them better otherwise they’ll just be too weak for players to take advantage of. [But] for me it’s probably more important that you work on your strengths than your weaknesses. It’s important to have one or two things that are very good that you can use. You can look at some players these days and they do one or two things very well and it takes them a long way than doing 5 or 6 things averagely. I think it’s both but for me obviously my forehand is my biggest weapon and I try to use it so I’d focus on that a lot but the areas I need to improve, you have to constantly improve them otherwise you’ll fall behind.”
Edmund’s analysis is borne out in data analysed on this blog (see here). Although data released by the ATP is limited and does not include data on forehands or backhands, data around serving and return statistics does shed some light on how complete your game must be at different levels of the top 100.
Broadly, within the top 100 there is a significant correlation between a player’s ranking and both the percentage of service games they win and the percentage of second serve points won. In other words, to get into the top 100, you need to win your service games, the stronger the second serve the better. With the top 50 the same applies. However, if you want to make the top 20 you have to be a good returner, period. This helps to explain why Isner has made it to the edge of the top 10 but has not yet broken through, and why Raonic’s recent improvement is an encouraging sign for him.
Aside from technical improvements, Edmund underlines the physical and mental preparation needed for success. He has trained with Andy Murray in specific training blocks either in Dubai or Miami, and the experience has been invaluable for him.
“I’ve known Andy for 3 years now properly, trained with him so from the first practice sessions with him to now I definitely feel a lot more comfortable physically and also [with my] ball-striking so that shows I’ve improved which I would have hoped I would have in 3 years! But it’s more a mental thing when you get up there and less so than the tennis. Everyone can hit forehands and back hands – everyone’s got their strength – but it’s the same thing. So I think it’s more mentally how those guys cope.”
Mental strength isn’t easy to measure. However, qualitative factors such as his mature outlook and calm personality, together with quantitative factors – in tight spots he has won 7 out of his last 8 tie breaks – suggest that he has the mental side well-covered right now.
The clay court season presages a busy period for Edmund, but one that he welcomes. He plays in a Challenger tournament in Rome starting Monday, after which he has a week off before entering qualifying for the ATP main tour event in Nice; he plays in the French Open at the end of May.