Antwerp 2018: Emotional Kyle Edmund wins first title: ‘You always remember this one’

• Fellow young guns make it three out of three in one afternoon; 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas claims maiden title in Stockholm; 22-year-old Karen Khachanov wins third title with Moscow victory

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

In a season littered by firsts, the top-ranked British player, Kyle Edmund, notched up another in Antwerp a week ago.

At one of the last tournaments in the calendar, the European Open, he headed the draw as the No1 seed for the first time in his career.

The preview for the Antwerp event summed it up nicely:

“In 2018, he broke the top 15, passed Andy Murray as the No1 Brit, earned the four biggest wins of his career, reached his first final, first Major semi-final, and first Masters quarter-final.”

He then became the Captain’s Pick for the Laver Cup Europe team in Chicago, earning the chance to play alongside Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic under the captaincy of Bjorn Borg—and won his singles rubber into the bargain. He was like a cat that got the cream:

“The chance to play tennis here is once in a lifetime… For me as a 23-year-old to be involved in this is amazing.”

But Edmund had more than earned his place, beginning 2018, ranked 50, with that Major semi-final in Australia, where he beat Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov.

After a final run in Marrakech and the quarters at the Madrid Masters, where he beat both Djokovic and David Goffin, he went on to beat Lucas Pouille in Rome and Murray on the grass of Eastbourne.

He continued to impress during the Asian swing, too, with a semi finish in Beijing and the quarters at the Shanghai Masters, and won his 34th match of the season with a win over Antwerp’s 2016 champion and No4 seed, Richard Gasquet, to set his second career final.

Now he faced the third Frenchman aiming to win this title, after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lifted the trophy last year—and perhaps the most charismatic and multi-talented of the lot, Gael Monfils. A former No7, the Frenchman was currently No38, a remarkable athlete whose career had been blighted by injury.

His ATP bio illustrated the point:

“Missed nine Majors with injuries from 2007 to 2016, including right knee, right shoulder and left wrist. Also missed six ATP Masters events in 2017 and four in 2018 due to illness and injuries to right knee, Achilles tendon, back and left hamstring.”

The good news for Monfils, less good for Edmund, was that he looked injury free in Antwerp, and a poor run in Asia—three first-round losses—meant he should have plenty in the tank. He had also beaten Edmund in their only previous match, at Wimbledon last year. This, though, was a stronger and more experienced player.

Edmund’s serving all week had been outstanding. Indeed he led the tournament in first serve points won, service games held—100 percent—and break points saved—all six faced.

But he was quickly knocked back at the start of the match, as Monfils’s defence forced a couple of errors from Edmund for the break, 2-0.

The Briton held in the fourth for 3-1, but Monfils was in flawless mode, edged a backhand, and ghosted in to the net for a deft winner and easy hold, 4-1.

Edmund began to warm up, however, and held to love for 2-4, but Monfils was in full flow, and made a fine off-backhand winner for another break chance. Edmund upped the aggression, made a forehand winner, and then came to the net to hold off the challenge, 5-3.

The Briton worked a sniff of an opening at 30-30 as Monfils served for the set, but the Frenchman’s pace, and variety in direction, pinned the Briton back, and the Frenchman served it out, 6-3, in little more than half an hour.

Edmund continued to heat up in the second set, and soon brought up his first break chance of the match courtesy of a bullet of a backhand. Monfils double faulted, and Edmund pumped his fist: He served, 3-1 up.

Monfils worked a break-back chance immediately, but Edmund’s forehand saved the day with two winners, and he went to 4-1 with a big serve.

He was backed into a corner again in the seventh game, after Monfils slotted a cracking cross-court running forehand. Pressed into over-hitting a forehand, Edmund faced another break point and this time an untimely error got Monfils back on track. The Frenchman did offer up another break chance with a double fault and two wayward forehands, but some big serves drew him level, 4-4. He did the same to take it to a tie-break—back-to-back aces.

Now Edmund wasted no time in getting his forehand and serve into full flight: He raced to the set, 7-6(2). He admitted afterwards that it had not been easy to keep pressing such a difficult opponent:

“One of my goals has been to stay consistent. Today I didn’t start off well, I really had to dig deep. I knew I had to start playing my game and be aggressive, but against Gael it’s not so easy!”

It would, then, come down to a third-set decider, and there was no let-up in the pace or ambition of both men. The Briton pushed the door ajar to earn two break points at 4-4, but Monfils cancelled them out with big serving. After more than two hours, Edmund would have to serve to stay in the match.

He did, and did so again at 5-6, where he produced some of his best tennis of the match to fend off 30-30, staying bold and focused, and took it to a tie-break with an ace.

And once there, Edmund rose to the occasion, came to the net, pounded from the baseline, opened the first gap, 5-3—with two serves to come. A high-power backhand down the line brought up match point, and a forehand winner sealed the deal, 7-6(4), in a hard-fought two and a half hours.

It all proved too much for Edmund, and the tears flowed. He needed a hug, and he walked the length of the court to get it from coach Fredrik Rosengren. He then had to run the gauntlet of a live interview before the trophy ceremony. He managed:

“Obviously very happy. A lot of hard work went into this. Just the emotion…”

A wipe of the face with his towel, and he went on:

“You will always remember this [first] one. Gael made me work for it today, that’s for sure. But it’s not just me that puts in the work, there’s so many guys behind the scenes over the years…”

Edmund is now scheduled to race off to Vienna for the ATP500 tournament that gets under way tomorrow. Straight after that, the Paris Masters will bring the curtain down on the main tour—aside from the elite eight, plus reserves, who head to London’s O2 for the Nitto ATP Finals.

And remarkably, mathematically, Edmund still has an outside chance of qualifying—though his chances of winning three back-to-back titles are, in reality, slim. But next year…?

Meanwhile, the two who follow Edmund in the Race to London cannot, even mathematically, make the cut this year, but they joined Edmund in scoring wins for the younger generation.

At a career-high ranking of 15, the 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas continued a wonderful year that began with him ranked No91 and saw him reach his first the final in Barcelona and a second at the Toronto Masters. In Stockholm, he finally won a title, beating Ernests Gulbis, 6-4, 6-4. He admitted:

“This trophy, it is amazing… When I first came to this tournament, I saw all those names: Federer, Del Potro, and I was like, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to have my name there one day’? It happened this week.”

Next in line, 22-year-old Karen Khachanov won his third career title in Moscow to break inside the top 20 for the first time, with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Adrian Mannarino. It ended a nine-year wait for a Russian champion:

“[Winning in Russia] was one of the dreams I had when I was a kid. Coming here, I was asking top Russian players for autographs and dreaming one day to become a champion here. Today is the day, and I am really happy. These are memories I will always keep in my head.”

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