After a difficult 2019, Kyle Edmund looks to make the first semifinal of what could be a resurgent 2020 season as he takes on fourth seed John Isner at the ASB Classic Auckland.
Kyle Edmund vs John Isner is live from Auckland on Thursday 16 January at 2pm local/1am GMT
Edmund started 2019 at a career-high ranking of world no. 14 after playing the best season of his life in 2018, a season which began with a surprise run to the Australian Open semifinals and saw him win a maiden ATP Tour title in Antwerp, finish runner-up in Marrakech and reach Masters 1000 Series quarterfinals in Madrid and Shanghai, as well as making a 500 semifinal in Beijing.
But he came abruptly down to earth in 2019, thanks to a right knee injury which plagued him throughout the season. Clearly not fit to play in January, he nevertheless attempted the Australian Open but lost in the first round to Tomas Berdych. He won the Indian Wells Challenger and made the last 16 at the Indian Wells Masters and in Miami, reaching the semifinals at the Eastbourne 250 too, but lost eight matches in a row on American, Asian and European indoor hard courts.
Edmund snapped his losing streak at the death, winning back-to-back matches for the first time since July at the Paris Masters before losing to Novak Djokovic and then putting together a surprisingly good showing at the Davis Cup Finals, going 3-0 with wins over Mikhail Kukushkin, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Feliciano Lopez as he subbed for the injured Andy Murray.
Edmund stalled his plummet down the rankings, but not in enough time to represent Great Britain at the inaugural ATP Cup last week. Playing the Qatar ExxonMobil Open instead, he lost in the opening round to the always dangerous Filip Krajinovic in three sets, but got his first win for 2020 under his belt at the ASB Classic when he beat wildcard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 before beating Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-3, 7-6(4) to book his place in the quarterfinals.
Currently ranked world no. 69, Edmund did not make an ATP Tour-level quarterfinal until June in 2019 so this season is already clearly an improvement on the last, but the British player with the heavy forehand would dearly love to make the ninth ATP Tour-level semifinal of his career and boost his progress back towards the top 50.
John Isner will have other ideas. The big-serving American also had a difficult year in 2019 due to injury, specifically a knee problem; he dropped out of the top 10, and maintained his position inside the top 20 due to his good results playing on American soil, winning the Newport 250 on grass, reaching the final of the Miami Masters and making semifinals in New York, Delray Beach and Acapulco.
Isner made little to no impact when playing away from the USA, however, losing in the first round of the Australian Open, skipping the clay-court season altogether and losing in the second round of Wimbledon. He only played four events after losing in the third round of the US Open to Marin Cilic, and ended his season by losing his opening match at the Paris Masters to Cristian Garin.
Isner didn’t exactly make a brilliant start to 2020 either, going 0-3 at the ATP Cup with his inability to defeat not just Daniil Medvedev and Fabio Fognini, but Casper Ruud of Norway making a major contribution to the USA’s failure to make it out of the group stages.
Auckland, however, has traditionally been a strong tournament for the American, who has a 17-6 record at the ASB Classic, winning it in 2010 (d. Arnaud Clement) and 2014 (d. Yen-Hsun Lu). Isner lost his opening match on his last two appearances, to Hyeon Chung in 2018 and Taylor Fritz in 2019, but snapped a three-match losing streak in New Zealand with a 7-6(3), 6-7(1), 6-3 defeat of defending champion Tennys Sandgren to reach the quarterfinals.
‘It’s always a tough match playing Tennys. He does a lot of things really well on the court. When him and I match up, it’s inevitably going to be close and that was the case today,’ Isner said. ‘I’m happy to get through in somewhat comfortable fashion in the third set.’
This will be the fourth clash between Edmund and Isner, with the American leading the head-to-head 2-1. Edmund won in four sets at the US Open in 2016, but Isner won their only subsequent clash at the Miami Masters last year in two tie-break sets.
Still, Edmund was struggling around the time of the Miami Masters last year, while Isner had one of his best results of the season that week. The British player’s heavy serve, while obviously not a weapon of the same caliber as Isner’s, is a significant weapon, and if he is moving well and going for his shots especially on the forehand wing, he can bludgeon Isner far more effectively from the baseline on a consistent basis than Isner will be able to do to him. It’s a good test for Edmund but also an opportunity to get his first top-20 win of the season and make his first semifinal of 2020 to boot.