The new British No 1 Kyle Edmund is climbing the rankings ladder at a great rate this season. Having started the year at No 50, a win tomorrow against his French equivalent Lucas Pouille would give him a real shot at a top-16 seeding at Roland Garros.
This rapid progress matches a new focus on pace around the court. Here in Rome, Edmund is working with a strength and conditioning coach who once sprinted for the British under-23 relay team, and used to train alongside Usain Bolt in Jamaica.
Darren Chin, a 36-year-old Londoner, is a fresh addition to the Edmund support staff this season. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Chin emphasised that he is acting as the back-up to experienced fitness trainer Ian Prangley. But he is bringing a highly specialised background to the job.
“I’m looking at his technique in running,” said Chin, “and his body biomechanics. It’s about understanding the way he's moving – the technical aspects of those five- to ten-metre distances.
“He's got massive potential,” Chin added. “One of the things I'm hoping to do is help him improve his flexibility. It’s about the way you lift your feet. Kyle tends to hit the ground quite heavy and over time we will try and get it lighter.”
Edmund has already made huge strides – literally – in his court coverage. The greatest groundstrokes in the world are of limited use if you can’t get to the ball. And while Edmund doesn’t have the natural fluidity of Andy Murray, he has trained like an animal to improve his first step.
To return to Chin, he took gold 15 years ago as part of the British 4x100 squad at the European Under-23 Championships. His career would be derailed by a foot injury that needed surgery, but not before he had spent two years training in Jamaica with Bolt and Yohan Blake.
As Chin explained on Tuesday, their regime was not as physically tough as the one he had been used to in the UK, but it was extremely technically demanding: “more about biomechanics, putting your body in the right position, and that’s why those guys run so fast.”
Being new to tennis, Chin is still digesting the niceties of the game. Delivering a restrung racket during Monday’s first-round victory over Malek Jaziri, he had to be reminded by coach Mark Hilton that he couldn’t take it on the court until the change of ends.
But Edmund has clearly enjoyed drawing on Chin’s unique perspective. “It’s interesting for me to see what training sprinters do compared to us,” Edmund explained. “And it’s interesting to see what the tennis world is like for him, compared to the athletics world. The first thing he noticed was just the workload of what tennis players do in terms of playing and travelling week after week.”
In 2018, a high proportion of Edmund’s workload has come on the match court, rather than the training one, as a result of several deep runs. “If I wasn’t winning matches, I would just be practising,” he said. “Winning a tournament [even if it was only the doubles event in Estoril, where he teamed up with fellow Briton Cameron Norrie] is good for your mindset at the end of the day.”
As for Pouille, who has inherited Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s mantle as tennis’ leading Frenchman, he ended a four-match losing streak on the tour, creeping past home favourite Andreas Seppi on a deciding-set tie-break. But despite his scratchy form, he will be no pushover. Pouille reached the semi-finals here two years ago, in what was his own breakthrough moment, and has been ranked as high as No 10 in the world.
Meanwhile the Association of Tennis Professionals announced that they will set up a towel rack at the back of the court during November’s NextGen Finals, to save ballkids from having to supply them to players at the end of points. “I don’t think it looks great handing out towels,” said ATP president Chris Kermode.
The ATP also welcomed a new player representative to their seven-man board. Alex Inglot, who is director of communications at data firm Sportsradar, is the brother of British Davis Cup player Dominic.