Ed­mund strug­gles af­ter los­ing touch with his in­ner tiger

Nig­gling in­jury, loss of con­fi­dence and quirky rank­ings sys­tem cost British No1 his po­si­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Tennis - Si­mon Briggs TEN­NIS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Will Kyle Ed­mund be re­turn­ing to An­twerp next week? The an­swer re­mains un­clear, but he could cer­tainly do with a pickme-up af­ter a sea­son that has turned more sour than a wormeaten ap­ple. So An­twerp – the city where Ed­mund claimed his maiden ATP ti­tle last year – would be a sen­si­ble place to start.

Yes­ter­day in Shang­hai, Ed­mund lost in straight sets to Jeremy Chardy. He did not play ter­ri­ble ten­nis, ex­actly. But nei­ther did he ever switch on the af­ter­burn­ers that had car­ried him to within strik­ing dis­tance of the world’s top 10 last year. And the worst thing? No­body was sur­prised, for it has been the same story for most of 2019. When the new rank­ings are pub­lished on Mon­day, his 19-month pos­ses­sion of the British No1 spot will end.

So, what has hap­pened to the young out­sider who reached the Aus­tralian Open semi-fi­nals last sea­son? The gi­ant-killer who over­pow­ered No­vak Djokovic in Madrid three months later? The ris­ing star who then ram­paged through the Asian swing, scor­ing six wins in a fort­night be­fore re­turn­ing to Europe and out­last­ing Gael Mon­fils in the An­twerp fi­nal?

In the view of Barry Cowan, the TV an­a­lyst and for­mer British No3: “Kyle has lost his iden­tity. He is at his best when he swings from the hip and uses his fore­hand. But it’s also true that he fin­ished last year with an in­flated rank­ing and was al­ways go­ing to struggle to de­fend his points. Next year will be eas­ier.”

Here is one of ten­nis’s awk­ward paradoxes. A ca­reer break­through brings pres­sure in any sport but par­tic­u­larly so in ten­nis, be­cause of the rolling 12-month rank­ings sys­tem. Fail to match last year’s re­sults and your ca­reer goes back­wards. We saw Jo­hanna Konta struggle with sim­i­lar ex­pec­ta­tions last year, in the wake of an ex­cel­lent 2017.

The good news is that Konta went on to sign an in­sight­ful new coach and has since de­liv­ered the best re­sults of her ca­reer. Can Ed­mund, who is also man­aged by Star­wing Sports, do the same?

“The next coach­ing ap­point­ment is huge,” Cowan says, for you can match Ed­mund’s dwin­dling con­fi­dence to the mo­ment when Fidde Rosen­gren an­nounced his re­tire­ment in Fe­bru­ary.

The en­er­getic Swede had en­cour­aged Ed­mund to aban­don his wall­flower ten­den­cies and im­per­son­ate a fist-pump­ing war­rior. “Fake it ’til you make it,” they say, and Ed­mund’s blood­cur­dling fore­hand meant that he could back up his new swag­ger with real fire­power.

But Rosen­gren’s de­par­ture meant that the more un­der­stated Bri­ton, Mark Hilton – who had shared the coach­ing role last year – was left to fly solo. Co­in­ci­den­tally or not, Ed­mund has lost touch with his in­ner tiger.

Phys­i­cally, a trou­ble­some left knee dogged Ed­mund for much of the sea­son. When he quit on his chair against Pablo Cuevas at the French Open, it felt as if his whole glum 2019 had been dis­tilled into one im­age. Even by the US Open, when he seemed to have fi­nally over­come that nig­gling pain, his lack of train­ing in the build-up meant that he was out­lasted by 33-year-old Pablo An­du­jar.

Then there is Ed­mund’s de­ci­sion to live in the Ba­hamas. Claim­ing non-domi­ciled sta­tus saves on tax but there is a down­side: be­ing un­able to spend more than 90 days in the UK is an un­com­fort­able po­si­tion when your friends and fam­ily are based there. In Au­gust, Ed­mund ad­mit­ted that “there’s not a lot of play­ers around” to hit with. Be­fore the US Open, he in­vited British No16 Paul Jubb out to be a prac­tice part­ner.

If Ed­mund wanted to be a tax ex­ile, it would make more sense to buy a flat in Monte Carlo, the world’s un­of­fi­cial ten­nis cap­i­tal. Per­haps he might have done, had Hur­ri­cane Do­rian razed his house last month as it did so many oth­ers. Prov­i­den­tially or not, how­ever, the is­land of Nas­sau was rel­a­tively un­af­fected.

Hav­ing started the year at No14, Ed­mund now stands on course to fin­ish some­where near No70. As Cowan points out, the first fig­ure prob­a­bly over­stated his qual­ity, for he is still adding touches – net skills, for in­stance – to that fore­hand-dom­i­nated game. But the se­cond is clearly an un­der­es­ti­mate. With the right coach, he can surely push back to­wards the top 30 and bet­ter.

This year has not been a happy ex­pe­ri­ence, and Ed­mund com­plained in a June in­ter­view that “as you be­come British No1, it’s weird to have peo­ple look­ing for you to fail”. But things should look up. The same rank­ings sys­tem that hurt him this sea­son will ben­e­fit him next, for al­most ev­ery win will be a gain on the points ta­ble. Per­haps the loss of that No1 spot will mark the turn of the tide.

An­other early exit: Kyle Ed­mund was beaten in the first round of the Shang­hai Masters yes­ter­day

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