July 17, 2016
A courageous Kyle Edmund came of age as he defeated Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) at the Tasmajdan Stadium in Belgrade.
It sent reigning champions Great Britain through to the Davis Cup semi-finals once more.
They will face Argentina, 3-1 conquerors of Italy, in September, and have Edmund to thank most for their own 3-1 win over Serbia.
The venue will be Glasgow, the O2 or perhaps even Wimbledon, if the Brits choose to gamble on the weather. Could France, also 3-1 winners away, be waiting in the final – in France?
Edmund’s inspirational victory, every bit as impressive as Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph in its own way, indicates that there will be life after the great man when the time finally comes.
Edmund, still only 21, showed power, technique, maturity and, just when he seemed to be crumbling, timely nerve. It showed that GB can win important matches even without Andy Murray.
The two-time Wimbledon winner’s mere presence seemed to put added fire into Edmund’s belly, though. Andy roared and hugged Britain’s new hero when a superb match was finally over.
Edmund said: ‘At 30-30 and then for the break point (serving for the match) I went a bit passive subconsciously. But I regrouped for the tie-break and on match point I just told myself to stay tough as nails.’
In his moment of triumph, Edmund sunk into the clay, lying down to take in the moment – one he may well cherish forever.
Edmund added: ‘When you’re out there, you go through so many emotions, you want to win for your country, I’m just so pleased to have won.’
Davis Cup captain Leon Smith said: ‘His backhand was rock solid and his forehand was unbelievable. This is great. We’re a close unit but hats off to Kyle. Two rubbers!’
Edmund said: ‘Argentina will be tough with Juan Martin Del Potro back – but we will look forward to it.’
The battling young Brit made a storming start against Lajovic. A crushing cross-court winner helped to set up his first break point in only the fourth game. But he couldn’t convert as he continued to adapt to life back on clay.
Edmund took his next chance though, an opening in the Serbs’ very next service game, as Lajovic began to crumble under pressure.
And the noisy British contingent were already sensing victory after Edmund consolidated to go 5-2 ahead. He had rarely if ever been threatened on his own serve up to that point.
Indeed Edmund promptly sealed the set with booming aces and had won a stunning 93 per cent of first serve points in the opener, backing that up with no fewer than thirteen winners.
Andy Murray supported enthusiastically, his face beaming with visible pride at what the youngster was on the point of achieving.
The Wimbledon champion’s decision to rest his body, if not his mind, from the rigours of tennis had been vindicated.
On Saturday, Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot had won what many perceived to be the crucial rubber of the match, the hotly contested doubles match against Filip Krajinovic and Nenad Zimonjic.
That 6-1, 6-7 (2-7) 6-3, 6-4 win meant that the final rubber would be rendered irrelevant if Edmund could chalk up a second singles victory. But in the cauldron of Belgrade, that was always going to be easier said than done.
Like his brother Andy, Jamie could hardly have been more impressed at what he saw from Edmund when the inexperienced Brit took centre stage.
Kyle had break points in the fifth game of the second set as he was playing out of his skin. But a rogue “out” call from the sidelines put him off at the crucial moment and the Serbs seemed to delight in the way Edmund was unsettled.
But the disgruntled Brit survived break point on his own serve in the very next game to draw level in the second set.
He then showed massive strength of character to break immediately afterwards, some real venom fuelling his shots when it came to the crunch.
And there was more true grit as Edmund consolidated to edge within a game of closing out the precious second set. He had a set points on the Lajovic serve and almost took the second of those.
But the set eventually boiled down to Edmund’s serve. Could he close out under pressure? Indeed he could. A kicker second serve was too much for his opponent and brought up two set points.
The Yorkshireman didn’t need the second. A thumping serve proved unreturnable and GB were just one set from the semis.
Novak Djokovic was conspicuous by his absence in Belgrade. His father was said to be there, and couldn’t have much enjoyed what was unfolding before him.
However, Edmund did take his foot off the gas for a few dangerous seconds in the third and soon found himself 0-30 down. He switched back on rapidly to hold.
Edmund squandered a break point in the fifth game of the third set as he showed the first signs of fatigue. Could he maintain his stranglehold on the match? You sensed he needed to do it in three.
Turning the screw once more in game seven, Edmund out-rallied Lajovic to convert his third break point. Now he was only two more games from arguably the biggest victory of his burgeoning career.
But Lajovic wouldn’t give up, not even when two points from defeat. He broke back when Edmund served stiffly for the match. It was the first time the taller man had been broken all day and nerves had surely played their part at last.
Would this be the turning point? It was time for Edmund to regroup and cut out the unforced errors that were starting to creep into his game. Lajovic had soon won three games in a row and it was Edmund who served to stay in the set.
He had tightened, the tension taking away the fluency that had got him so far. Suddenly Serbia had a set point. Edmund fought back then double-faulted. Psychologically he was having a mini-crisis. Lajovic had a second set point. Again Kyle battled back to force the tie-break.
Tiredness caused poor decision-making from the emerging Edmund, otherwise he might have broken on the very first point.
Strong first serves settled his nerves as he edged ahead. But Lajovic was finding a new gear now that he had nothing to lose – and the Serb regained the lead to go 4-2 up in the breaker.
Fizzing Edmund forehands kept him in the fray and he levelled at 4-4 but Lajovic pulled out one of his best serves of the entire match to keep the pressure on.
A sledgehammer forehand drew Edmund level once more and then suddenly he had his first match point when Lajovic fired wide.
The Serb’s aim deserted him once more, and Kyle realised he had done it, falling flat on his back to savour the moment.
If the gangly Edmund continues to work on his speed of movement, and perhaps strengthen that ever-improving backhand further still, there is no reason why he can’t turn into a top ten player.
It will take an awful lot of gruelling work behind the scenes. But now that he has tasted the big time, Edmund should have the appetite to improve his game by that vital fifteen per cent.
Andy Murray should be back in time for the semi-finals. GB couldn’t hold onto the crown, could they?
Argentina and perhaps France will have something to say about that. Whatever happens, tennis just continues to thrill. Aren’t we lucky?