Kyle Edmund will now find himself thrust centre stage as leading man of British tennis

Simon Briggs
The Telegraph
Kyle Edmund says he is focused on doing the best in his career rather than filling the void of Andy Murray's impending retirement - Getty Images AsiaPac
Kyle Edmund says he is focused on doing the best in his career rather than filling the void of Andy Murray's impending retirement - Getty Images AsiaPac

We have been fortunate, in British tennis, that the baton keeps transferring itself neatly down the line. Our talent reserves might be thin, but when a slam comes around, there is usually at least one player who survives the first week.

A well-timed handover took place around a dozen years ago, just as Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were sliding out of the world’s top 50. This was the moment when a saturnine Scot named Andy Murray arrived to plug the gap, presaging the greatest era for the British game since Fred Perry was carrying all before him in the mid-1930s.

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Last year, a similar process repeated itself. Just when we Poms were bracing for a miserable Australian Open, with Murray rehabbing after his hip operation and Johanna Konta experiencing a bad case of burn-out, something miraculous happened.

Then 23, Kyle Edmund had put together some hot streaks of confident play without ever suggesting that he had the focus to go deep in a major. But his Melbourne Park campaign of 2018 was his coming of age. When he finally left the tournament at the semi-final stage, having collected a pair of top-ten scalps and a minor hip injury along the way, he had become a national hero, with film crews flocking to his old village school.

Edmund would go on to build on that moment by winning his first ATP title in Antwerp in October. But now, as he returns to the blue planet of the Australian Open, he carries a little extra responsibility on his shoulders. Murray is about to make his final curtain call, leaving the stage for Edmund to dominate. Is he ready to play the leading man?

When the question was put to him on Friday, he sounded distinctly unimpressed. “It’s a very unfair question to say, ‘You’ve got to fill this void because he [Murray] is gone,’” replied Edmund. “I’m just trying to do the best in my career.”

Murray’s departure will change the whole landscape of our sport, and no-one is likely to feel it more than Edmund, the 24-year-old who will now be thrust even further into the spotlight. As he went into last year’s US Open, he stood on a run of four straight majors as the last Briton standing, of either gender. But he then suffered a physical power failure on a day of sapping heat and humidity, and fell in the first round to 37-year-old Paolo Lorenzi.

Since then, Edmund has had his tonsils removed and experienced some recurring knee pain, which forced him out of events in Paris and Sydney. After that latest niggle, and a wobbly start to the year in Brisbane, he has yet to notch up his maiden win of 2019. But this would be a good time to hit form. A mischievous draw has landed him a stinker of a first-round meeting with Tomas Berdych, the 6ft 5in Czech who has reached the semi-finals here two times, but whose ranking has dropped in recent months because of an extended absence forced by a back injury. Should Edmund lose, he would drop a massive 720 rankings points – around a third of his overall tally – and probably double his ranking to somewhere around No. 28.

“It's obviously a tough match,” said Edmund. “It's a bit weird because he's been out injured and you don't know how they are coming back. But he did well in Doha so you sort of get a feel already how he's playing. Last year I drew [Kevin] Anderson, this year Berdych. They're tough matches but you can win them and of course you can lose them. You’ve really just not got to have many expectations”

At least Edmund will have plenty of company. There are no fewer than eight Britons in the draw, the highest number at this event since 1988. And they have drawn some interesting opponents, not least Harriet Dart – the self-possessed 20-year-old from Hampstead in north London, who will face Maria Sharapova in the first match of the tournament on Rod Laver Arena.

“Sharapova has been my idol since I was very little,” said Dart. “I looked up to her growing up. One, she always looked so nice when she was playing, and also the way she holds herself on the court, her presence. It will be pretty cool to play her.”

Among Monday's other matches, Cameron Norrie – who played his first ATP final on Saturday in Auckland, but lost in straight sets to Tennys Sandgren – has landed an unusual one against his friend and doubles partner Taylor Fritz. And Dan Evans, who came through qualifying in fine form on Friday, can be delighted with his luck as he faces another qualifier: Tatsumo Ito of Japan.

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