But this week has nevertheless added to the buzz around the methodical Edmund, who is also a relative ingénu at 23. With three top-20 scalps in the last fortnight, he continues to terrify opponents with his nightly transformation from polite Yorkshire lad to ferocious racket-whirler. His forehand will be one of the sights of Paris when the French Open starts in nine days’ time.
Edmund lost in straight-sets this evening – 7-5, 7-6 – but the concluding tie-break turned into a classic. With Zverev showing signs of fatigue after ten straight wins, Edmund staved off seven match points before finally succumbing when he skewed one last overambitious forehand beyond the baseline. Afterwards he described the feeling of being locked in battle on the Pietrangeli Stadium, the fabulous sunken court that is surrounded by neo-classical Roman statues.
“You go into a place where you’re zoned in,” Edmund said. “If you could step out of your body and look at the environment you’re playing in, it’s a special occasion playing on that court. It’s packed and you’re in a dogfight. There’s no nerves, you’re obviously aware of the situation, but it wouldn’t help to get nervous, you have to keep going and believe in yourself.”
Edmund was in surprisingly buoyant spirits afterwards, feeling that he left everything on the Roman clay. Despite this loss, his two previous wins will still probably earn him a place among the top 16 seeds at Roland Garros, who are guaranteed to avoid any higher-ranked players until the second week. The only way he can be pushed down to 17th is in the unlikely event that someone beats Rafael Nadal, the one-man clay-court army, who eliminated another exciting youngster in Denis Shapovalov.
Both British No 1s left Rome with defeats by their names, but at least they were creditable ones. Johanna Konta won the first set against the reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and was competitive throughout her 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss.
Afterwards, croaking through a heavy cold, Konta told reporters: “I have been working very hard on becoming better, on becoming fitter again, on getting to a mental state where I feel like I am asking those questions against the best players in the world. It’s definitely a positive step.”