Australian Open 2018: Kyle Edmund ‘in a good place’ after beating Dimitrov to set semi against Cilic
Kyle Edmund is through to his first career grand slam semi-final against Marin Cilic after beating Grigor Dimitrov
British fans may have heaved a groan of disappointment at the news that Andy Murray, three times a Major champion and hero of the Davis Cup and the Olympics, was out of this year’s Australian Open. Instead he headed to the surgeon’s table.
Those same fans may have sighed in disappointment when No9 seed Johanna Konta fell in the second round to a lucky loser.
And they may have been few hopes for No49 in the world, Kyle Edmund, when he was drawn against No11 seed Kevin Anderson, in the first round.
But the biggest worry for the 6ft 2in Yorkshireman turned out to be the Australian sun. The fair-skinned Briton had, it transpired, been admonished by his mother to use more sunscreen after he got a little burned in that opening five-set thriller. What he did not do was get burned by Anderson: He came back from two sets to one down to score one of the best wins of his career.
And all at once, the picture changed for fans following Edmund’s progress through the nights, for the other three seeds in this eighth of the draw also lost their openers. An unseeded man from Edmund’s eighth would certainly reach the quarter-finals, and the Briton was among the highest-ranked among them.
Sure enough, through extreme heat, another gruelling five-setter against Nikoloz Basilashvili, and then three hours against Andreas Seppi, Edmund’s forehand, serve, fitness and focus stood up to the pressure. He was into his first Major quarter-final, and among elite company come Day 9 at Melbourne Park: world No1 Rafael Nadal would take on No6 Marin Cilic—both Major champions—and he would face the winner of the World Tour Finals just two month ago, No3 in the world, Grigor Dimitrov. It earned Edmund his first match on the biggest show-court, the Rod Laver arena.
And by now, there were few back home who were not following his progress, setting alarms for 4am and crossing fingers and toes that Edmund could upset the order of things. And why not? Dimitrov may have made the semis in Australia last year, and he may have beaten Edmund in their previous two matches, most recently in the quarters of Brisbane, but both those matches had been mighty close.
Edmunds’s tactics were clear, too, honed in the company of new coach Fredrik Rosengren: take advantage of the fast Melbourne court with his usual aggressive tennis, and power that formidable forehand at the Bulgarian’s one-handed backhand wing.
In the first set, they exchanged breaks before Edmund broke again in the ninth game, and served out the opener, saving break-back points, 6-4.
Dimitrov took advantage of a slight dip in concentration from Edmund in the second to break early and take a 3-0 lead, and he held his advantage to take the set, 6-3.
However, the Bulgarian’s serve let him down in the third, and one of a tally of seven double faults handed Edmund a break and the chance to serve out the set: He did, 6-3.
The fourth set was a tense affair, with both men wavering on serve to exchange breaks, but Dimitrov, who had endured a couple of long and testing matches on his way to this quarter-final—he had to win three tie-break sets to beat Nick Kyrgios in four—was starting to spray errors. In contrast, Edmund remained remarkably composed, broke again, and served out a famous win, 6-4.
Famous, because Edmund became just the sixth British man to reach a Major semi-final in the Open Era. No wonder his Davis Cup colleague, Murray, was the first to tweet, “Wow, Kyle Edmund!”
Yet the 23-year-old Briton remained just as composed come his media obligations:
“Obviously, I am loving it right now, just the way I’m playing. I’m 23 years old, my first Grand Slam semi-final. First time I played on one of the biggest courts in the world. To beat a quality of player like Grigor, of course, all these things I’m aware of. They’re great feelings. You don’t play in the semis of a Grand Slam every day, or a quarters like today.
“So, yeah, I just try to enjoy it as much as possible. I knew I was in a good place. There’s no reason why my tennis wasn’t good enough to win.”
He was, not surprisingly, asked about his thoughts of meeting Nadal in the semis: Again, he was quietly relaxed.
“Of course, it would be an amazing experience to play someone like him… The main thing I focus on is, I’m in a good place. There’s no reason why I can’t go out there and put a good level on the court, enjoy the occasion again. A semis of a Grand Slam, it’s a great feeling. Just try to take it in my stride as best as I can.”
But would he play Nadal? It would be many hours before the answer was determined in a high-quality, pulsating match against Cilic. The Spaniard was certainly he favourite: He had, after all, lost only one match to the Croat, way back in 2009, and had since dropped only one set to his tall opponent. He would lose the second in Melbourne, as Cilic brought all his best fire-power to the table, took the ball early, was more than solid at the net, and many times left Nadal rooted to the baseline.
It took more than half an hour to reach 3-3, with Cilic forced to save four break points along the way. Then Nadal had to dig deep on serve, finally broke, and edged the hold, 6-3. But Cilic was just warming up, and after a nervy break following an out-of-the-blue time violation, he won four straight games, sealing the 6-3 set with an ace.
The third set would become a marathon 72 minutes. Nadal fended off a plethora of winners from Cilic to withstand break points in the third and fifth games, Cilic resisted set point in the 10th. It would take a tie-break, and despite some blistering cross-court passes from the Croat, Nadal took it, 7-6(5).
But Cilic more and more took advantage of Nadal’s position at the back of the court, angling winners wide and chasing to the net to finish. He broke, and led 4-1 with his 33rd volley—from 44 approaches—and the toll began to tell: Nadal took a medical time-out for his right thigh. He held one more serve, but Cilic surged on to level, 6-2.
And once Cilic broke through a stubborn effort from the now-limping Nadal for 2-0 in the decider, that was the end. The Spaniard retired, for only the second time in 67 Majors, leaving Edmund to face Cilic.
The Croat, playing with the same aggressive freedom that took him to the Wimbledon final, had notched up 83 winners, and his movement and speed were as good as they have ever been.
But for Nadal, it was an unhappy conclusion so early in the season. He truncated the end of 2017 at the World Tour Finals due to his troublesome knee, and begins 2018 with a bad hip. He looked angry, frustrated and upset by turn, and while he holds on to the No1 ranking, he knows Roger Federer is in his rear-view mirror—not in Australia but perhaps before Nadal is back to 100 percent.
For now, though, British fans can look forward to some big-time tennis come breakfast time on Thursday when Edmund, who is already on his way inside the top 30 for the first time, aims to take one more giant leap.