January 15, 2018
Britain’s Kyle Edmund clenched his fist in triumph at the Australian Open, still gritting his teeth, just as he had done at key moments all match long.
You needed a certain nerve to come from behind twice and pull off this impressive result.
Edmund showed that he is developing a psychological strength to go with his natural power. And now the only way is up.
As he looked for approval from the stands, Edmund needn’t have worried. The world now knows that the British have another star in the making. And Melbourne expressed its generous appreciation for the younger man, who simply wouldn’t give up.
At 23, Kyle showed there is still a strong interest for the Brits without Andy Murray centre stage at a Grand Slam, as he notched the biggest win of his career.
He beat the eleventh seed Kevin Anderson, who was a finalist at the US Open, the other hard-court Slam, and was therefore considered a contender here at the Australian Open.
Meanwhile, the Americans suffered most on a day of shocks. Venus Williams, CoCo Vandeweghe, Sloane Stephens, John Isner and Jack Sock all went out in the first round.
True to form, Rafael Nadal and home favourite Nick Kyrgios raced through their opening matches, conserving precious energy for the tougher times ahead.
Not that Kyrgios was relaxed in any way – he picked up a typical code violation, despite his dominance.
Nadal defeated Victor Estrella Burgos 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 with an ominous level of self-assurance. ‘I don’t know how many years I’ll be able to play here, so I want to enjoy every moment,’ the Spaniard said, showing that he is on a charm offensive too at the Australian Open.
The controversial Kyrgios didn’t find his opponent too tricky, as he saw off Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in 87 minutes. He had more trouble with the crowd and the umpire, arguing with both after he was distracted by spectator noise while serving.
For Edmund, by contrast, it was all about staying with the man on the other side of the net. He became involved in a draining thriller – but the crowd loved it.
The underdog had to show a stubborn streak to come back, as the match initially appeared to be following the form book. With improving fitness and agility now added to that power-game, Edmund could be going places.
Eventually, the British number two prevailed to win 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. That reversed the result of their last five-setter at the French Open – and showed that Edmund has worked hard on his physical conditioning.
A delighted Kyle said: ‘This type of result makes all the training feel worth it. It feels really good.’
And it feels equally good for British tennis fans to know they have a big-time player beyond Murray.
All the signs point to Murray’s return in good time for Wimbledon 2018, of course. And he will still be one of the main attractions at Wimbledon 2018.
But the Brits might be treated to double the pleasure this year if Edmund continues at this rate of progression.
There was no such breakthrough for Jack Sock at the Australian Open. The talented American became the surprise victim of Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-3.
Fifth-seeded Venus, last year’s finalist, lost 3-6, 5-7 to Belinda Bencic. Meanwhile, Zhang Shuai beat Stephens 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, meaning the US Open winner hasn’t tasted victory since Flushing Meadows.
Timea Babos beat Vandeweghe 7-6 (4), 6-2, while Isner admitted to being “undercooked” after Matthew Ebden beat him 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
But Day One of the Australian Open belonged to Edmund most of all. In Murray’s absence, the Brit’s timing couldn’t have been sweeter.