Having watched Kyle Edmund play quite a few matches during the 2018 season, I was convinced that he belonged among the Top 20 and believed he might well be ready to take his place among the elite Top 10. He peaked at No. 14 that October after opening his campaign at the majors with a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open. He remained at No. 14 in the year-end rankings.
But the 25-year-old struggled inordinately in 2019, dropping 55 places to No. 69 as a left knee injury impaired his play. His outlook changed as the doubts mounted. And yet, time can heal many wounds—both physical and psychological—and now he has every reason to believe in himself once more. In a first rate performance on the black courts at the New York Open, Edmund took apart Andreas Seppi, 7-5, 6-1, to claim his second career ATP title and his first since ruling in Antwerp in 2018.
The British competitor was outstanding in a multitude of ways against his wily Italian adversary, but what set him apart most strikingly was the quality, depth and precision of his serve. Edmund released 11 aces, did not face even a single break point, and put 69% of his first serves in play. More importantly, he won 31 of 33 points when the first serve went in, stifling the player who had been the tournament leader for the week by winning 36% of his return games. Edmund even managed to win 60% of his second serve points. In the sport’s upper regions, lofty serving numbers like that will lead almost inevitably to victory.
Nonetheless, Seppi stayed with Edmund admirably through a hard-fought first set. Seppi, who will turn 36 on February 21, has finished the past 15 seasons among the Top 100 in the world, concluding nine of those years as a resident of the Top 50. That is no mean feat. He is a very difficult man to break down from the backcourt. His ball control is extraordinary, his instincts uncanny, his depth and accuracy unrelenting.
Seppi put those skills fully on display in that first set, although it always seemed as if Edmund, at least marginally, had the upper hand. The opening game of the match was an unmistakable sign of what was to come. The Brit held at 15 with a pair of service winners and a game concluding ace. Seppi answered with a love hold of his own. But Edmund’s rhythm on serve was remarkably good. On his way to a 4-3 lead, he dropped only three points on his delivery, and Seppi was having increasing difficulties on his end of the court.
The Italian had to fight through two deuces to reach 3-3. He lifted his level significantly in knotting the score at 5-5, but his fate was sealed in the 11th and 12th games. Edmund held at 15 for 6-5 with two aces and a service winner, and then was masterful from the baseline. With Seppi serving to stay in the set, Edmund opened up off both wings from the baseline. A sizzling forehand into the corner drew an error from Seppi for 0-15, and then Edmund unleashed a forehand inside in winner on the following point. Seppi rallied to 15-30 but Edmund stung him again with another scorching forehand inside in, and then sent a dazzling backhand down the line into an empty space for a winner.
With that flurry of shot-making, the British player had taken the first set 7-5, collecting eight of 10 points over the last two games. He was confident and relaxed, and Seppi realized he was in a serious bind against a player who had beaten him four out of the five times they had clashed in head-to-head competition.
Edmund was soaring now, and the Italian was hard pressed to reverse a losing trend. Edmund commenced the second set with a love hold, and then broke at 15. He promptly held at 30 for 3-0. Not only had he captured five consecutive games, but he had also swept 20 of 25 points in that span. The winds of momentum were at his back, and heclearly believed he was going to keep moving forward and close out this account on his terms.
A plucky Seppi obstinately held on in the fourth game of the second set, prevailing in a six-deuce game after fending off four break points. But that commendable stand did little to alter the chemistry of the match. Edmund served three aces in a love hold for 4-1. Now Seppi needed to leave the court for a medical timeout and it was soon apparent that he had a left leg issue that was impairing his movement.
The last two games of the contest were simply a formality. Edmund broke for 5-1 with some of his finest defense of the match, coupled with timely aggression. He then held at the cost of only one point to wrap up the triumph in 91 minutes. He stood at No. 62 in the world when he came to play the New York Open, but now will move back into the Top 40 with a chance to recapture the form that carried him through 2018.
To be sure, Edmund has set himself up for a productive 2020 season. But he can’t afford to rest on his laurels. He opened his 2020 campaign reasonably well with a quarterfinal appearance in Auckland, losing there to John Isner. But he was beaten in the first round at Doha by Filip Krajinovic and lost in the opening round of the Australian Open to Dusan Lajovic. He can be vulnerable to losses against the likes of the two Serbians. As for Seppi, after a decent start to the season with second round losses against Edmund in Auckland and Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open, he did not win a match in two recent Challenger tournaments. And yet, here he was in an ATP 250 final.
It was surely an uplifting week for both finalists, but particularly for the victor. The Brit was delighted to secure his second career ATP title.
“When you are young and training and playing tennis, these are the sort of things you imagine—wanting to win professional tournaments,” he said.
He was happy with how he set the tone for the match. Edmund explained.
“For sure, winning the first set in matches really helps. When you get that first stamp of authority in finals and get a left helps that really helps,” he said. “You don’t have to force the issue as much. You just have to keep the momentum going...He doesn’t make it easy to just go out there and blow him off the court and his serve is very accurate and comes in at an awkward height.”
Also, Edmund felt his serve was better than it had been all week long.
“My serve got better as the week went along. It really worked today,” he said. “I only lost a couple of points on my first serve and that allowed me to win a lot of points with my forehand.”
But as content as he was to record a tournament triumph again on the ATP Tour, the 25-year-old concluded his remarks without getting carried away. He was fittingly philosophical, which should bode well for his future.
“What makes it nice is you experience all of these ups and downs so you realize you can’t take success for granted,” he said. “You learn from that—from the low points and the disappointments of losing matches. Those help you to get to the happy times and the success. I haven’t won five matches in a row since probably March last year.
“So you can’t just expect things to happen. Until I got to match point today I never thought about winning the tournament.”