Focus on ‘fearhand’ and a strong work ethic can propel Kyle Edmund into the tennis elite

Edmund during the Australian Open 2018 semi-final. EPA-EFE

Tennis player Kyle Edmund’s recent run of form has been impressive – even in the face of his semi-final loss at the 2018 Australian Open. The match that led to the semi-finals was Edmund’s first top ten win at the tournament – and a significant step in the 23-year-old’s career. Last year he lost all 14 matches against top ten-rated players, so beating number three seed Grigor Dimitrov was a sweet victory for Edmund and his team.

Edmund was only the second British male player since 1977 (after Andy Murray) to reach the last four of the Australian Open, making him one of six British men to reach a grand slam semi-final in the open era. Even though he lost to world number six Marin Cilic, the open has still been a great success for Edmund. For the first time in his career he has won five consecutive tour level matches which will see him break into the global top 30.

Fearhand

Edmund’s rise to the top of the game should come as no surprise, as with most tennis players his journey has been long and hard fought. In his formative years, coaches Richard Plews and John Black laid the foundations of his game. More recently Fredrik Rosengren and Mark Hilton have helped him fine tune his skills to now be able to compete with the best in the sport.

Edmund’s biggest weapon, his forehand, allowed him to dominate the points in his quarter-final match, even against Dimitrov, one of the best movers in the game. His signature shot is well known and has always been his greatest strength.

His success at the start of the 2018 season however, can not be attributed solely to the so-called “fearhand”, it is improvements in other areas of his game which have made the difference. The numbers have come about, in part, as a result of the technical changes made during the off season. Better use of the legs and an improved loading position, mean that Edmund’s contact point is not only higher but also further inside the baseline, which allows him to be both powerful and precise – and also results in a more aggressive court position on landing.

There have been other developments in Edmund’s game too. His backhand is now more consistent from the back of the court – and even more notably on return of serve. Complement this with an improved net game and we begin to see a player who is impressive in all areas of the court.

With small margins making a huge difference at the top of the game, Edmund’s improving stats make for good reading. So far this year, Edmund has won 89% of his service games – in comparison to 2017 when he won 82%. This puts Edmund’s service stats firmly among the company of the top ten men and within touching distance of Roger Federer, who tops the group at 92%. More positive numbers follow, with Edmund winning 57% of points when a second serve is required.

Sharp mind

But it’s not just his physical capabilities that are driving Edmund up the rankings. Andy Murray’s coach, Jamie Delgado, has credited Edmund’s mindset and technical improvements during the off season as critical to his recent success. Edmund has benefited over the years from spending time with Murray and his team during off-season training camps. The time spent under Murray’s wing will have undoubtedly had a positive effect on Edmund’s work ethic and attention to detail.

His recent wins have also showcased a growing confidence and self belief – areas that coach Rosengren has paid particular attention to during his time with Edmund. Taken together, his physical and mental improvements have seen Edmund win four out of five deciding sets this season – compared with the seven out of 25 won last year.

Regardless of his loss in Australia, these improvements in his game will surely stand him in good stead in 2018 and beyond. Looking to the rest of the season, further tests of his improving game will come in the form of other players who deny Edmund the time to unleash his biggest weapons – as Cilic did in the semi-final. The likes of Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro and Stan Wawrinka may also expose areas of his game which were tested during the semi-final at the Australian Open. But, given his training ethic, it would be no surprise to see Edmund overcoming these further challenges.

The only other question mark arising, as with any top player, is physical longevity. As many of the world’s best have experienced, the strain placed on the body from the repetitive nature of the sport and demanding scheduling are potentially a player’s biggest rival.