Nick Westby: Hard work enables fearless Kyle Edmund to reap his deserved rewards in Melbourne
Quarter-finals day in the first grand slam of the year was supposed to be where the journey ended.
Under the scorching Melbourne sun with one of the annointed heir apparents to the big four standing on the opposite side of the net, this was when Kyle Edmund’s major breakthrough was expected to conclude.
Never a winner against a top-10 player, the general consensus was that the draw had finally caught up with the 23-year-old Yorkshireman, that a run to the quarter-finals for a man who has never even reached the final of a regular ATP tournament, was a creditable accomplishment.
Chalk it up to experience and see if you can take that promise into the rest of the year.
Or so it seemed, for no one had told Edmund this, or if they had he had simply ignored them.
Because standing across from the powerful Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in that opening service game, Edmund looked unbowed by the occasion and not remotely intimidated by the third seed and a man who just two months ago won the ATP Tour Finals in London to claim the biggest prize of his rapidly-developing career.
The British No 2 attacked the Bulgarian’s second serve from the outset, a tactic that proved so successful that Dimitrov double-faulted en route to a loss in that opening game.
Even when Dimitrov broke back midway through the first, the tide having seemingly turned, Edmund showed enormous character to respond instantly and break back before holding with a service game of great depth and variety to take the first set.
Not even a levelling of sets could dull Edmund’s momentum, the fair-haired Yorkshireman merely stepping up his aggression and the ferocity of that whipping forehand that did so much damage as he closed out a famous victory.
Many will point to a venomous forehand as his main assett – Tim Henman later described it as one of the ‘top five out there’ – but the improvements to Edmund’s all-round game have been abundant in this run to the last four.
Knowing you need more than one weapon in the bag against the game’s elite, Edmund went on the aggressive not just in his groundstrokes, but at the net as well, winning 20 of 25 points when he approached as he pushed Dimitrov back.
His serve is another improvement; Edmund is placing the serve better and his wide, sliced serve on the deuce side has been particularly effective.
Mentally, Edmund is so much stronger. Last year he was criticised for not being able to cross the finish line, losing 18 of 25 deciding sets, but this year he is showing greater resolve, as he has shown repeatedly in Melbourne.
His fitness is much improved. Where in the past a trainer coming on to treat him for cramp was a common sight, this fortnight alone he has spent spent 14 hours and 48 minutes on court, longer than any other player, including the gruelling five-setter in round three in 40C heat.
Tying all these threads together and harnessing them in a 6ft 2ins frame has been the job of the coaching duo of Sweden’s Fredrik Rosengren and highly-regarded British coach Mark Hilton.
Rosengren has worked with many top-10 players and together with Hilton they are seeing the fruits of their labour with Edmund’s journey Down Under.
Edmund is poised to climb from No 49 in the world rankings to a career-high of 26, whether he wins or loses tomorrow’s morning’s semi-final with Marin Cilic.
He will also overtake Andy Murray as British No 1 if he reaches the final.
Of all the stats and statements that have come out of Melbourne the last 24 hours, that is perhaps the one that most sums up the magnitude of what Edmund is accomplishing: if he reaches the Australian Open final he will usurp Murray – arguably the biggest name in British sport – as Britain’s top-ranked male player.
Rankings are statistical of course, reflective only of recent play. Murray’s body of work is incomparable. But what an opportunity this is for Edmund.
After staring down Dimitrov with such fearlessness, the lower-seeded Cilic will not possess anything like the ability to unnerve Edmund as a Rafael Nadal would have done had the 15-time grand slam winner done as expected and booked a semi-final spot yesterday.
But as Edmund has proven, this is an Australian Open where nothing is as obvious as it seems.