Sport, it is said, is war by other means. And it’s especially so when John Isner and Kyle Edmund are the belligerents. While not tennis’s biggest guns, they do have two of its biggest shots: Isner’s elegant-gun serve and the Edmund’s wrecking-ball forehand are phenomenons best enjoyed behind tempered glass, if you’re a spectator, or a suit of armour, if you’re on the other side of the net. For two hours and 43 minutes they rained blows on each other in an encounter of pulsating, pulverising aggression. Ace followed ace followed ace. Forehand winner followed forehand winner followed forehand winner. The forehand, ultimately, was the winner, Edmund triumphing 6-4 3-6 6-2 7-6 (7-5).
Head-to-head is a misleading term where John Isner is concerned: at six foot ten, the American out-tops Edmund by eight whole inches. But going into the match, Isner was most people’s favourite, having won their sole previous encounter – at this year’s French Open – in straight sets. Since that defeat, however, Kyle Edmund has grown up. In July, he lead a GB team minus Andy Murray to a Davis Cup victory over Serbia. And on Tuesday, in an eye-catching upset, he straight-setted Richard Gasquet in the first round. Edmund always had the big weapons. Now, it seems, he has the big belief to match.
And how he needed it against Isner. Having lost the first set, the American rallied in the second and at the start of the third moved 0-40 up on Edmund’s serve. The match pivoted on this moment. Had he taken one of his break points, Isner would likely have ridden his giant serve to the set, and been odds-on to win the match. As it was, Edmund saved all three break points (with some envenomed forehands) and broke a frustrated Isner in the very next game. While the American hung on all the way to a fourth-set tiebreak, Edmund never again relinquished the momentum, sealing the match, fittingly, with another rip-snorting forehand winner.
Unfortunately, an even taller obstacle awaits him in the fourth round, in the rubbery shape of Novak Djokovic. Djokovic, it’s true, isn’t in his most annihilatingly imperious form. As well as nursing a wrist injury, he’s licking mental wounds sustained during early losses at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games. But to blast holes in the Serb’s anti-tank defence, Edmund will still need his artillery to be at full force. Though if the Isner match is anything to go by, the Brit’s game is developing in unexpected ways. Not just as Nadal-like forehand, Edmund is becoming a a Murray-like passing shot artist too. A cross between Murray and Nadal? That might – just – be enough to take a set off the world number one.