If watching football has brought light relief to the monotony of Kyle Edmund’s rehabilitation, the Briton is also viewing his extended layoff through the lens of a half-time interval. Although it can feel hard to believe, it is now almost a decade since the former British No 1 turned professional, sweating, toiling and quietly succeeding in Andy Murray’s shadow. The cruellest aspect of the knee injury, for which he underwent surgery last November, was that it interrupted a career that was rapidly coming into its own. But while the relentless nature of elite sport rarely affords the luxury of perspective, Edmund has been able to use his eight-month absence as a chance to consider the ground already conquered.
“When you’re constantly rehabbing, it doesn’t feel like there are many wins,” admits the former British No 1. “It gets tough at times and you need a lot of patience and sometimes it does wear thin. But when you step away from a bit and you’re on the outside, you can reflect a lot easier. Looking back on what I’ve done, for sure it’s been good but if I were to retire today, I wouldn’t feel like I got everything out of my career.
“How do you evaluate success? I just try and go off whether I squeezed everything out of my potential. I’m 26 now, I’ve reached a respectable ranking, I’ve got tour wins under my belt. As a sportsman, you rarely have moments when you’re satisfied. You keep pushing without knowing what the end is and you can become self-critical, I know I do. This is a halfway marker and I know I can do more.”
On court, Edmund is a fierce competitor, all stone-faced and clenched fists. But removed from that environment, he is a grounded and perhaps even a slightly introverted character. It is a stoicism that might easily have been inherited from Murray, who Edmund has shared several recent hours with in the gym at the National Tennis Centre, but those who’ve known him since his childhood in Yorkshire insist he has always wielded a quiet but singular focus.
That quality reaped its greatest rewards in 2018, when Edmund peaked at No 14 in the world rankings, defeated Novak Djokovic on clay, and reached the semi-final of the Australian Open. It also helped to silence some of the stinging accusations that his mental fortitude could not match the strength of his thunderous forehand. In the Davis Cup final three years earlier, Edmund wilted after taking the first two sets against David Goffin in the opening match. He harbours no regrets over his performance but admits the pain of that defeat stuck with him, even though Great Britain were still ultimately crowned champions.
“There aren’t many matches I wish I could change the result but that was one of them,” he says. “When I won my first tour event [defeating Gael Monfils in the European Open final in October 2018), I’d lost the first set and I proved I could dig and hang around and I won two tiebreaks. That was a big moment in my career to show I could tough it out in a final against a top player. That gave me the belief I could do it.”
As ever, the rough always comes with the smooth. Edmund’s breakthrough also marked the point when the fluid began to bubble behind his left knee. He bit through the pain for months but relented after the 2019 season stagnated during the pandemic. But having taken longer to recover than first envisaged, his hopes of returning for the grass-court season were extinguished. And with that, his wait to reverse his fortunes at Wimbledon goes on, too. He has only reached the third round once, taking a lead against Djokovic in a whirlwind atmosphere on Centre Court, only for the eventual champion to storm to a resounding victory.
“I definitely dropped and faded and those guys don’t, that’s what I learnt from that match,” says Edmund, who will still attend the championships as an Evian ambassador. “If I want to win those tournaments, you have to be able to deal with that better. That’s the level of a Grand Slam. The second week of Wimbledon is where you want to be. If I don’t go further than I have in my career, I’d be disappointed. I can only give my best and a player knows if he’s being honest with himself about what he’s putting in. I want to do better and that’s a memory that motives me when I’m trying to get back out there.”
In the meantime, he can only live vicariously through Briton’s other leading lights. Having been raised during Murray’s peak, Edmund is now taking inspiration from the relentless perseverance the Scot continues to show in pursuit of a lasting final stand. “I want to see him rewarded for all the work and sacrifice and disappointment of the last few years with his injury,” he says. “It’d be so good to see him do well and the support will be immense.”
Murray’s injury plight is mirrored in Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal and the uncertainty over Roger Federer’s fitness. For Edmund, that can serve as a hidden source of optimism. Time is slowly but surely beginning to close the gulf in class that has reigned for 15 years. If he is about to enter the second half of his career, it promises to be a far more open game. “The Big Three are not done but there are definitely more younger guys winning tournaments,” he says. “A lot of them are guys my age who I’ve known since the juniors. Touch wood, when I’m back, there’ll be those opportunities for me, too. It’s just about grabbing them.”
Kyle Edmund is a Global Brand Ambassador for evian, the Official Water of The Championships, Wimbledon. The brand is celebrating the return of Wimbledon with an annual ticket pledge to thank different community groups with a dedicated day at its iconic VIP Suite, the first ever hospitality suite to be certified carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust. Youth Champions are the next group to be celebrated during Wimbledon 2022, with evian and Kyle calling on the nation to submit nominations via its Instagram account @evianwater from 30thJune.