On a gorgeous, 70 degree day with just the hint of a cooling breeze, the prospect of a final between one of tennis’s most touted up-and-comers and a wily, former Top 100 veteran promised much. And, for two-thirds of it anyway, 19-year-old Kyle Edmund and 31-year-old Victor Crivoi delivered on that promise.
The two had met almost exactly one year ago, with the pair splitting two tight sets before the elder Romanian cruised to victory in a lopsided final frame. So the question was: how much difference would a year make, with the younger Brit having risen about 200 spots in the rankings in that time? The answer, surprisingly, turned out to be: not much.
From an Edmundian perspective, the match unfolded in opposite fashion from his semifinal win against Isak Arvidsson — rather than having to work his fearsome forehand into a good groove, he started out firing on target early and often. And then it started going awry.
But at the outset, the Brit’s favorite shot was working well, and he claimed the first break of the match with an off forehand winner that was anything but off, eliciting a gasp from one of the patrons as he secured a *2-0 first set lead.
But he wasn’t done there. After saving a break point by forcing a Crivoi forehand error, the hulking English teen grabbed game point with an inside-in blast that caused a young father standing courtside to issue forth an impromptu, under-breath review: “wow!”
Wow indeed. He held for 3-0*. (Kyle, not the father.)
The fourth game featured a bit of a mild controversy, as the 31-year-old veteran pulled a 0-15 backhand crosscourt wide, only to walk up the sideline and point to a mark from Edmund’s previous shot that he claimed was wide.
After examining the mark, the chair umpire reversed his original call, giving the point to Crivoi instead. Kyle rightly pointed out that Crivoi had played on and hadn’t stopped the point to challenge where his opponent’s ball had landed. Nevertheless, the point was deemed in the Romanian’s favor, and he held to 30 to join Edmund on the scoreboard.
The next two games just seemed like the 6’4” Beverley boy was showing off; two aces and two forehand winners to hold for 4-1*, then another three forehand finishings to break for *5-1. This had all the makings of a rout, and Edmund had 10 outright forehand winners in the first five games in addition to the assorted times he’d forced his foe into errors from that wing.
But the top-seeded Crivoi, currently ranked #232 but with a career high of #75 in 2009, was not to be finished off so easily. A wily tactician, he began exploiting Kyle’s ad-court shading by deliberately playing backhands down-the-line into Edmund’s forehand corner, catching him out and stretching him wide, forcing errors. Two such rallies, as well as two forehand miscues from the Brit, contributed to Crivoi getting one of the breaks back.
With Edmund’s initially reliable forehand leaking errors, and Victor’s variance of the rally patterns (including a few drop shots creeping into the mix), the 31-year-old chiseled his way back to level in the 1st set at 5-all. Serves were held, and a tiebreak undertaken.
In the buster, the Brit ceded a mini-break with a netted backhand volley (a shot that plagued him the few times he attempted it), and went down 0-2*, only to reel off the final seven points for a — any guesses? That’s right! — 7-2 TB win. The last three points went: Edmund down-the-line forehand winner, Edmund service winner, Edmund forehand crosscourt winner. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
In retrospect, the fact that Kyle took a comfort break after winning the first set might have been an early indication that he was starting to feel unwell somehow. At the time, however, it just seemed like he needed… comfort. Of a restroomular variety.
From the start of the second set, though, it was clear that Crivoi was determined to disrupt Edmund’s rhythm any which way, with drop shots aplenty, multiple forecourt ventures and hardly any time between service points. The Romanian hit three drop shots in the first game alone, holding serve to 15.
Kyle held for 1-all, when Crivoi’s drop shot return off a second serve (ho ho!) found the bottom of the net. But then, after a Crivoi hold, another adjustment: the veteran noticed that every single second delivery from Edmund was a body serve, so the Romanian started ripping run-around forehand returns to great effect. Crivoi landed two such blows in the fourth game, possibly leading to the 30-40 double fault that gave him the second set’s first break.
Edmund immediately got the break back, though, thanks to his long-lost friend the inside-out forehand winner resurfacing to say hi on breakback point. The next game was when I noticed Edmund start to just spin the ball in on his first offering — whether to bypass the need for a now-vulnerable second delivery or as an indicator of declining wellness, I know not. He held for 3-all nonetheless.
After a Crivoi hold, an Edmund resurgence: three outright forehand winners and a love hold for 4-all. And in the next game, when the big blond Brit got to double break point on the wings of another winner off that wing, one had to feel the match was his for the taking. But Crivoi saved one of those virtual match points with a forehand down-the-line winner of his own and forced an Edmund forehand error with a crisp inside-in forehand.
At *4-5 30-all, Edmund extracted himself from dangerous terrain with an inside-in forehand ripper, and did the same at deuce, holding for 5-all on the next point.
After a 30-15 service winner from Crivoi, Edmund shook his right wrist out, which I duly noted in my notebook but which seemed like nothing at the time (and probably remains nothing at this time). Victor held for 6-5* with an “ace” on the next point — Kyle made no move for the ball, thinking it was out.
A 30-all backhand crosscourt winner from the Romanian gave him set point in the next game, which he converted thanks to an Edmund forehand sailing over the baseline. And with that, it looked like we were to be treated to a three-set thriller!
Er, not so fast. (Well, yes to the “three-set” and not so much to the “thriller”.)
After a Crivoi lovehold got things started, it still looked like we had a dogfight on our hands, as Edmund saved four break points and gamely brought about game point by rushing to net and forcing a backhand error from his opponent. Alas, that would be the last point Edmund would win the next 16 (sixteen) times they teed it up.
Break. Lovehold. Lovebreak. Lovehold. These aren’t bad love song lyrics, folks. This was just bad tennis, with Edmund not running for many balls and surprisingly seeming to have nothing left in the tank. (Surprising because this was someone who tirelessly trained with Andy Murray in the Miami sun. Though, to be fair, perhaps not surprising in that there was a lot of day-in day-out tennis accumulated in his not-yet-physically mature legs, this being his tenth match in two weeks.)
Kyle banged out a couple of forehand winners for old time’s sake, serving at 0-5, but it was not to be. Crivoi came back to win the last four points and with them the match 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-0.
After the match, the Victor surprised me by telling me, “I didn’t feel well. I threw up all the night. I feel sick. I have a virus. I didn’t know if I could enter in the court or not, because I didn’t feel well. I didn’t want to get injured because I got injured a few years ago and I stayed out for like two years.”
Wow. Some observer of the game I am! Though I wrote down every little tic of Edmund’s, I didn’t notice a single thing wrong with Victor throughout the match.
“I didn’t run too much today,” Crivoi continued, “I just try to kill him a little bit, to play from experience, because he was very powerful. I made him run a lot, and I didn’t feel well with my legs, and I was very weak in the beginning. But then I find my rhythm, to make shorter the rallies. I didn’t wanna make a few more long rallies with him because I knew I didn’t have any chance with such game.
“After the tiebreak, I played really good and I risked some shots. I knew it if I am gonna win the second set, it would be easier. But I think he get cramps in the final set and I fuel up my energy from his attitude.”
I wasn’t able to track Edmund down after the match to get his side of the story, sadly. He probably had to leave fairly immediately for his flight to San Diego ahead of his Davis Cup clash vs. the USA next weekend (in fact, he told me that’s what he needed to do when I spoke with him yesterday). Happily, I was able to have quite a lengthy chat with him yesterday, and I’ll have that full interview up either tomorrow or Tuesday.