This article titled “Kyle Edmund to face Cilic in Australian Open semis after Nadal retires” was written by Kevin Mitchell at Melbourne Park, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 23rd January 2018 12.14 UTC
Kyle Edmund is through to the semi-finals of a slam for the first time after beating the world No 3, Grigor Dimitrov, in four sets on day nine of the Australian Open – and the 23-year-old Yorkshireman might allow himself at least a moment to dream about the ultimate prize on Sunday afternoon.
He has already declared he thinks he can win it. Now he is two wins away from delivering on that conviction. If his body and brain hold up under the biggest examination yet of his temperament and ability, he will give himself chance to become the first British man to win here since Fred Perry 84 years ago.
And in the last four Edmund will meet Marin Cilic, who advanced after top seed Rafael Nadal retired hurt during the fifth set of their match.
Cilic, who led 2-0 in the deciding set, had lost the first and third sets to trail the Spaniard, but took the upper hand during the fourth as Nadal began to visibly struggle. And after Cilic had levelled the match and gone 2-0 up in the fifth, Nadal limped his way to the net to retire.
Edmund beat Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 49 minutes on a warm afternoon in front of an engaged house of 15,000 fans on Rod Laver Arena. Despite a few hiccups, he looked very much at home.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Edmund said courtside. “I’m very happy. With these sort of things you’re so emotionally engaged that you don’t really take it in, you don’t enjoy yourself, so just at the end, after a hard match and having played lots of matches so far, I just really tried to enjoy the moment. This was my first match on this court and it was very special.”
Asked what the keys had been to his victory over Dimitrov, Edmund said: “He’s played hard matches. He won a five-set match and then a high-level match against Nick Kyrgios, so I knew it was going to be tough. I had a bit of a dip in the second set. I think it was quite poor tennis at some point. But in the third set I managed to break him right at the end. I had a little blip in the fourth set but held my nerve in that last game and just prayed that last ball was out.”
The boat was rocking inside five minutes, when Edmund broke at the second attempt, pressuring Dimitrov to overcook a sliced backhand.
Fredrik Rosengren has made a noticeable difference since joining Edmund as coach late last year, and you could see the difference in the player’s smart probing of Dimitrov’s showcase shot, the single-handed backhand – although it got him on the board in the third game.
Edmund did not lose a point on his serve for a quarter of an hour, held stylishly for 3-1 and looked all over the Bulgarian, taking him on from the back and pinning him deep with his power serving.
A first double fault for deuce after 20 minutes, followed by a wayward forehand, hinted at nerves – and a repeat cost Edmund his serve. Dimitrov gave him another look on the half-hour, his serving arm trembling again for his third double fault, and Edmund cashed in when he got hold of his nervous 78mph second serve to break again.
Edmund had to save three break points, and clipped the T for his fourth ace on the way to holding for the set after 42 minutes. It was a tense but encouraging start.
The second set got away from Edmund, though, 0-3 down within quarter of an hour, and he had to fight through deuce four times to block the double break. A paper-thin ace, his sixth, helped him get back on the board after seven agonising minutes.
What Edmund has learned to do – especially under Rosengren – is to compartmentalise his tennis, to leave negative thoughts and poor points behind him, to live in the moment of the shot. Four days previously, in 40C heat, Edmund came from 15-40 down, to break Nikoloz Basilashvili’s heart in a 20-minute game in the fifth set of their third-round match. That is priceless experience at this level. Now he needed a dividend on that.
But Dimitrov, who outlasted him over three sets in Brisbane this month, has grown in self-belief too. He reached the semi-finals here a year ago and had Nick Kyrgios at the end of his tether over three-and-half hours in the fourth round. Here, he levelled at a set apiece after an hour and 25 minutes of occasionally high-class power tennis.
It is fair to say Dimitrov won his set more comfortably than Edmund did his, although they lasted pretty much the same time.
In the pivotal third, Edmund came through a minor rough patch to hold for 2-1 with a pair of aces – his eighth and ninth – that suggested he was slowly rebuilding his big game.
And then Dimitrov handed him a gift: a double fault, his seventh of the match, for a break in the eighth game. This time, Edmund pounced, hitting with the scary of freedom that will intimidate a lot of good players in years to come. He wrapped up the set with a big serve to the ad corner that Dimitrov could not control.
Edmund came from 2-1 down twice to get this far in nearly 12 hours of stressful tennis, while Dimitrov’s route here took him half an hour less, and he only gave up two sets once, against the qualifier Mackenzie McDonald in the second round. All that baggage was there for both of them as they went into the fourth set: did they trust their legs and their poise enough to play their best tennis under pressure?
They cracked within minutes of each other. Edmund smashed a weak second serve home to break in the eighth game, and handed it back with a wild forehand in the next. It was as if expectation were the enemy of both of them. Dimitrov saved break point in the seventh, and held with an ace, to stay ahead in the serving cycle.
The video replay gave Edmund two break points, when Dimitrov’s sizzling backhand came within a millimetre of legality in the 10th game, but the Bulgarian made it academic when he dumped another one from behind the baseline, and Edmund served for a place in the semi-finals.
The points were short and edgy as they traded nervously. Edmund struck a fourth double fault. Dimitrov hit long. Edmund hit his 13th ace for match point – and Dimitrov shoved a closing forehand long.
“He’s got to be a bit stunned,” John McEnroe said of Dimitrov, who has come close in big matches so often. “But credit to Edmund. He has learned how to play in big matches.”
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