As British number two tennis player Kyle Edmund entered the Italian Open, he would’ve been well aware that this was a chance to gain a foothold on clay ahead of the French Open. To put it kindly, 2020 hasn’t been the best of years for the Englishman. He lost his British number one status to Dan Evans towards the end of 2019, and since then Edmund has struggled to rediscover his best form. That lack of belief came to the fore once again in Rome, as Edmund lost in three sets to qualifier Marco Cecchinato.
It won’t have helped Edmund’s cause that the coronavirus pandemic meant the tennis season had to be suspended back in March, taking away the chances for struggling players to rejuvenate themselves. But the return of the ATP Tour has brought with it a new season of hope, and the chance for a fresh start. Edmund, however, has failed to take full advantage so far, and he has looked rusty and unlike himself in his matches since the sport’s return.
The recent US Open perhaps wasn’t the best performance of Edmund’s life, but it’s hard to be too critical given that he lost to number one seed, Novak Djokovic, in the second round. The Englishman did take the opening set of that match on a tiebreak, but perhaps a lack of confidence meant that there was only likely to be one winner, and Djokovic showed his class to win the next three sets.
This latest defeat at the Italian Open was an altogether more worrying one. The match played out in a similar pattern, with Edmund playing well in the first set, asserting himself as the higher-ranked player and emerging a 6-3 victor. But it was as the match got tight that Edmund began to lose focus. He had the opportunity to win in straight sets when the second went to a tiebreak, but couldn’t overcome the determination of Cecchinato, who won the lengthy breaker 9-7.
A theme of Edmund’s recent performances has been that he seems to lose belief when the going gets tough. So it proved against the Italian, who ran out a 6-2 winner in the third and final set to advance to the second round and send Edmund crashing out, licking his wounds after yet another disappointment. It’s been quite a fall for the player who reached the semi-finals of the 2018 Australian Open and once looked to be taking on the mantle after Andy Murray’s injury struggles.
Now, with the French Open getting underway on September 21st, and tennis fans eagerly rubbing their hands in anticipation and poring over every betting exchange for the latest clue as to who will win, Edmund has a chance to shake off his miseries and get himself back to a high standard of performance. His best performance at Roland Garros was reaching the third round in 2017 and 2018, but it may just prove that this latest defeat in Italy will be a wake-up call for the world number 45.
Grand Slam tennis is fiercely demanding, but given the fact that Edmund was sent packing relatively early at the US Open, he may be feeling fresher than most as he heads to Paris. With the Italian Open has been the only clay-court tournament held since Flushing Meadows, we may see a few shocks and surprises in the early rounds at the French Open. With few expecting Edmund to make any real impact at the tournament, it could conversely prove to be the perfect opportunity to recover some form and reassert himself as a competitive name in men’s tennis.
He’ll have his work cut out due to the presence of Djokovic, US Open winner Dominic Thiem, and of course the ‘King of Clay’ himself Rafael Nadal. But Edmund can draw from his experience of reaching a Grand Slam semi-final in the past when he beat established names Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov to reach the last four in Melbourne two years ago. Edmund is a player who clearly possesses the attributes to do damage to the sport’s top players, and he’ll be hoping to return to more explosive form at the French Open.