Well, folks, since my first Player to Watch selection for 2014 was 17 years old, and my second PTW pick is 19 years old, I thought it only fair that I include an 18-year-old pick today, lest I be accused of ageism.
Today’s player might not have as many junior or pro singles titles as Borna Coric or Kimmer Coppejans (he does hold a 2-1 H2H advantage over the latter, having not played the former), but he’s got a tangible amount of intangibles going for him in a way that makes his imminent success seemingly even more assured.
Also, for today’s profile, I’m going to try something different: since the guy I’m writing up has so many smart things to say, generally, about his game and others’, I’ll try to use his own words wherever possible, rather than rely on my usual speculative yammering.
One thing that hasn’t changed: the amount of blathering I do at the beginning of these articles, trying to build up suspense as to who the player is, when you and I both know you’ve already cheated by scrolling down and looking at the pictures anyway. Ah well. No point in delaying any longer, then. My third and somehow more tangibly intangibly set for success Player to Watch For 2014 is (as you already know, you cheater)…
Posting a 40/18 record in his first full year on the pro tour (a winning percentage of 69%), the strapping English 18-year-old has won three Futures titles in last 13 months or so, and rose 503 spots in the rankings in that time. He was also the first 1995-born player to take a title at the professional level, when he beat Chase Buchanan 7-6(2) 2-6 6-4 to claim the USA F29 Futures late October of last year.
His late-2012 results have dropped off his ranking this month, leaving him at #381. But is he panicking? Is he rushing off to try and make up those points at Futures tourneys at the end of this year? Hell no. The precocious lad is off instead training hard with a Slam winner (as PTWs tend to do). But more on that later.
Kyle generally wowed the world with a sizzling stretch of play through the spring and summer, during which he went 30/9 and challenged some of tennis’s top players. He began by taking his third pro title at the USA F11 Futures in April, then made up for his singles defeat to Alexander Zverev on his favorite surface (clay) in the Roland Garros boys singles quarterfinal by taking the doubles title with Portugal’s Frederico Silva.
Then it was onto the grass season in Engerland, which is where the British media discovered him (God help him). Thankfully, their dross is my gain, because as much as I enjoy Edmund’s game and its potential, I also appreciate how he conducts himself off the court.
In interviews, he’s always even-keeled, level-headed — as he is on court — and every answer he gives feels right. It might not be flashy or exciting enough to please the fickle and eccentric tastes of an Ernests Gulbis, say, but the responses Edmund gives to interview questions show that his head and his focus are always in the right place, ever aiming to prepare and compete in a way that will lead to success.
Going into his first ATP-level event at the Queens Club in London, he seemed on unfamiliar ground: “It’s a bit surreal, to be honest,” he remarked about seeing his name in the draw next to names like Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov. “You don’t see that very often. Usually, you’re next to someone eighteen — same age as you — and you’ve seen at other tournaments, but to get to be next to Berdych and the guy I play tomorrow, a Slovakian guy*, obviously you’re not used to it, but hopefully one day you do get used to it. You need to start from somewhere.”
Though he took a close loss to the 16 seed Zemlja, success soon followed at the AEGON International in Eastborne.
Clay might be Kyle’s favorite surface, but he didn’t let that get in the way as he proceeded to tear it up on the grass**, recording a straight-set win over then-#82-ranked Kenny de Schepper and pushing then-sixteen-ranked Gilles Simon to two tiebreaks in the next round, having set point in the first set.
Heading into a Wimbledon in which he’d play men’s and boy’s singles and doubles as well as mixed, Edmund reflected on what he’d learned about his game and how it stacked up versus the top pros: “The average age of top 100 has gone up. You don’t get to where you want to at 18. It means you have to be patient…A successful tournament is one you take something away from. Learning something is the main thing.”
At Wimbledon, Kyle lost in the first round of all the events save for juniors, where he lost in the semifinals of both the doubles and the singles (to Italy’s Gianluigi Quinzi). I love what he had to say following his 2-6 2-6 4-6 defeat to Jerzy Janowicz in his first Wimbledon main draw match: “If there wasn’t areas to improve on, there would be something wrong.”
Great, refreshing attitude, that. He doesn’t set rankings targets or get caught up in “Next Big Thing” hype, he just tries to play each point as it comes to the best of his ability, having prepared as best he possibly can off the court.
So how does he actually, you know, play? To hear him tell it: “”I like to play aggressively and try to use my forehand,” says the 6’4”, Johannesburg-born Beverley boy. “‘Everyone said my ball strike and speed is not a problem – I’m strong for my age – but the main thing was using my feet. I’ve always been pretty good mentally though do occasionally lose concentration in a second set. I try not to get frustrated, because it doesn’t help me. If I stay calm, it helps my game. I’m always in the present, which is where you want to be, not in the past.”
From what I’ve seen of Kyle’s game, he has a big and very lively forehand, which sometimes comes off the court less like a tennis ball and more like a super ball. Sometimes he does run into trouble (literally! durr hurr) when he shades too far against the backhand, putting himself in disadvantageous court positions — even though technically his two-hander is very sound and just lacks a bit of the power he’s so keen to play with. He can (and will) develop the serve a bit more, and some of that will just come with pure physical growth, nevermind technical. But all the ingredients are there.
Unlike with Coppejans, there are a billion and five YouTube videos of him playing. If you have a spare couple of hours, I highly recommend taking in this great battle between two young talents, Edmund and 15-year-old Stefan Kozlov in this years Wimbledon boys quarterfinals:
This past Friday, Kyle took off for Miami, where he’ll join some dude named Andy Murray in a three-week training block before taking a wildcard into the ATP 250 event in Chennai to start the new year.
Whoever he is, this Murray guy is also impressed by Edmund: “He puts in the effort on the court and in the gym,” said the jolly Scotsman, who also invited Edmund to stay in his Miami apartment for the duration of their time together. I hear it’s quite lovely.
If Edmund doesn’t make it to the top, it certainly won’t be for lack of trying.
*Grega Zemlja‘s Slovenian, Kyle, but don’t worry — everyone is a bit SLO to catch onto that country abbreviation.
**Not literally, of course. The mild-mannered Edmund is a friend to groundskeepers everywhere; minimal racket tossing.
[Author’s disclaimer: took some shots at the British press here, but I should specify that I’m only speaking about the tabloid press. Most of what I read and saw (and shamelessly sponged off of) about Kyle from this summer was really quite good. Hopefully the journos across the pond won’t exert too much pressure on the the lad and will let him develop in his own time.]