The British No 1, who begins his Wimbledon campaign against the Australian qualifier Alex Bolt on Tuesday, is scheduled to meet the former champion in the third round
Kyle Edmund says he is privileged to be British No 1. Photograph: John Patrick Fletcher/Action Plus via Getty Images
Kyle Edmund does not need reminding of his poor record at Wimbledon but, having risen to 18th in the world, he is a different beast this summer to the one who lost against Gaël Monfils in three sets a year ago, his fifth defeat in six appearances in the main draw since his debut in 2013.
Through circumstance and his own efforts, the 23-year-old Yorkshireman this time is contending as British No 1 – the first time Andy Murray has not held that honour since 2006 – and he will be hugely disappointed in himself if he does not easily account for the Australian qualifier Alex Bolt on Tuesday.
“It is great to be the British No 1,” Edmund says. “It is a very privileged position to be in. It will be my first time at Wimbledon in that position, so I don’t know what to expect, but it’s a nice problem to have.”
Edmund has the guns to deliver on his ranking. He just needs to fire them in the right direction at the right time and, if he blows Bolt away, the likely prize will be a match on Thursday against the 29-year-old Japanese player Yuichi Sugita, who loves playing on grass but has yet to leave a lasting impression on it here in seven visits. Two years ago he famously lost against the British battler Marcus Willis in the first round of qualifying.
Beyond Sugita, however, is the much tougher prospect of a third‑round match on Saturday against the three‑times champion Novak Djokovic – and that should be an altogether different challenge, depending on the fitness of the Serb’s serving elbow. Djokovic has flitted in an out of form on clay, in Rome and Paris, and is still finding his feet on grass – but his ambitions look to be on the rise. The quirky American Tennys Sandgren and the Argentinian Guido Andreozzi are his obstacles en route to Edmund.
Edmund, who suffered with his hip in Australia this year, has no health concerns and is in a relaxed frame of mind with a bank of confidence building since making the semi-finals in Melbourne. That was a run that made everyone in the game look up: after years of knocking on the door, he had barged his way into the party.
After reasonable tune-ups at Queen’s Club and Eastbourne, Edmund says: “I have played my best grass court tennis this year. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
He spoke here at the weekend about the increased pressure of being centre stage in Murray’s absence through injury, as well as his own impressive improvement. “Going to British No 1, top 20 in the world, people know you a bit better, expect more from you, want you to do better. I want to do better. That’s all natural in the world of sport.”
In a quiet moment in Eastbourne after beating Murray in two sets with some quality hitting from hand and off the ground, Edmund looked back on a young career that has promised much and might be about to deliver, as well as his earliest memories of Wimbledon. “I remember the days when it was Tim [Henman] playing, reached the semis four times, lots of Centre Court matches with him, playing in all white, with the black and bronze Slazenger racket. I can’t remember what age, but I did one of those tours at the All England Club. It was the first time I ever went there, probably seven or eight, I reckon.”
That sort of attachment is unique to British players, of course, and Edmund is aware of the weight of expectation that is about to descend on his shoulders. It does not seem to faze him – although little does; he is one of the most placid characters on the Tour.
“It is the home of tennis, Wimbledon – like the Masters of golf. It’s the one everyone wants to win, especially being British. It It’s hard to describe, but it definitely has that sort of presence you sometimes have when you meet people. As they walk into a room, you can really sense just who they’re about. Wimbledon has that feel about it as a place, something special.
“As I’ve been there more and more, and been lucky enough to become a member, I have become familiar with the surroundings and feel more relaxed about it. But when you’re younger and playing the juniors, you definitely know you’re at a special place. So many tennis legends have been there. I remember thinking that last year: how much history there had been there, and I was lucky enough to play on Centre Court. It was kind of surreal.”
As his status has grown, so his place at Wimbledon has moved on. “The have a seeded locker room and an unseeded one. Last year was the first time I was in the seeded one, because I was a member. This time I will have it on merit. They try and update it but also try to keep it old school. I can’t complain: big showers, there are baths there, like in the old days. But they have just changed the colour of the carpet.”
Only Edmund, the most laid-back player on the Tour, would remember a detail like that. He will need all that sense of calm if he runs into Djokovic at the weekend.
“Ultimately, I am 23 years old, British No 1, top 20 in the world,” he says. “You could say I’m living the dream: being on the Tour, a professional tennis player. You have to be humble and enjoy it. Make it as fun as possible, not look at it as a chore and a problem.”