Kyle Edmund returns to the scene of his greatest moment hoping the Australian Open can be the start of a path back to the top of the game.
The 28-year-old is at Melbourne Park for the first time in three years having missed most of the last two seasons because of a chronic left knee problem that has required three operations.
His ranking is now way down at 583, a far cry from the days in 2018 when, after a brilliant run to the semi-finals here, he cracked the top 20.
Edmund’s ambitions this time are much more modest, with the Yorkshireman grateful simply to be back on court and feeling healthy enough to compete.
He said of the knee issue: “It’s something I’m always going to have to manage. But having the time out was really long so to be able to play again is something I’m very thankful for.
“I know I have the game to play at the highest level and hopefully the work I’ve done in my rehab and strength will allow me to stay fit to be able to compete.”
Edmund dipped his toe back in the water last summer, playing mixed doubles at Wimbledon in his first match since October 2020 and then entering five events in North America, including the US Open.
He then stepped away again to do more training, saying: “I was able to play but not really at the standard or physically the level I wanted to.”
Edmund returned to the tour last week, playing the two ATP events in Adelaide, and, although he lost in the first round both times, he pushed 28th-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic in two close sets in the second one.
The first saw him lose 6-3 6-2 to leading young Italian Jannik Sinner, who he will lock horns with again in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.
“When you haven’t played a lot of tennis, you’re always searching for rhythm,” said Edmund. “In the end, I felt the (Sinner) match just went really quickly and was over before I knew it, but the second one was a lot better.
“Being here has allowed me to practice with the best guys in the rankings. It’s a good leveller to see where I’m at. Just putting myself out there is all sort of money in the bank.”
Edmund stepped into the spotlight left empty by Andy Murray’s hip troubles here five years ago, his sledgehammer forehand carrying him to victories over Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov and heralding what appeared to be a very bright future.
But his knee began to niggle later the same season and his two visits since both ended in first-round defeats.
“When I think back to 2018 it’s always good memories, walking around the grounds, or in the player area, or on the court,” he said. “But it just feels so long ago because so much has happened since then. I know I can play well on these courts because I did.”
Sinner represents a very tough opener but, while he is of course chasing victories, Edmund will settle for now for feeling like he is heading in the right direction.
“I feel like if I played someone who was 90 or 80, or a qualifier that was at the lower end, is a tough match for me right now because I don’t have loads of wins,” he said.
“You’re like ‘Oh, I want to get back now and I want to play better now’. But I know inside it does take time. To get to where I was before, it took years of training and experience in matches. So, when you go right down, you don’t just suddenly get it back again.”