It has been difficult for British No 1 Kyle Edmund and his Swedish coach Fredrik Rosengren to avoid the fact their two nations face one another in Russia on Saturday afternoon.
The timing is somewhat unfortunate for Edmund, with the quarter-final match-up in Samara likely to coincide with his third-round Wimbledon encounter against Novak Djokovic.
“I don't mind either way,” he said. “Obviously I'm a tennis player, so I'm here to do my job first. But we'll see. Hopefully it will be a success for both of us, England and myself.”
Edmund and Rosengren have had no choice to embrace this distraction, but they are unsurprisingly keen to stress that it’s tennis first, football second.
After all, Edmund faces the greatest of tests on the grandest of stages - but just how can the No 21 seed overcome the 12-time Grand Slam champion?
Lessons from Madrid
Edmund failed to take a set off Djokovic in their first three encounters, which all came on the American hard courts, but he will be looking to draw inspiration from his Madrid Open win earlier this year.
Edmund-Djokovic head to head
2018 Madrid Open (Clay) R32 – Edmund won 6-3 2-6 6-3
2017 Indian Wells (Hard) R64 – Djokovic won 6-4 7-6
2016 US Open (Hard) R16 – Djokovic won 6-2 6-1 6-4
2016 Miami Open (Hard) R64 – Djokovic won 6-3 6-3
The 23-year-old was clinical on the red dirt in Spain, converting four out of five break-point opportunities, and saving four out of seven on his own serve.
Edmund will have to be just as ruthless on Saturday. He only won two more points than Djokovic in that Madrid encounter (70-68), but it was enough to see him over the line and give him the boost of beating one of the all-time greats.
“When you beat someone, it always gives you that confidence,” Edmund said. “I remember playing reasonably well that day. It was mentally a good thing for me… Every match is different.”
First meeting on grass
As Edmund rightly points out, every match is different, and Saturday’s showdown will be the pair’s first meeting on grass, which plays quicker than the hard courts of America and the clay courts on the continent.
“Movement's a big difference,” said Edmund, which he admitted plays into Djokovic’s biggest strength. “He's one of the best movers in the game. You think about that, you can think too much about it.”
Edmund is aware he is facing a man who does “a lot of things very well”, and he is tasked with finding the cracks within Djokovic’s game, which is looking back to its best after a difficult two-year period with form and injuries.
The Brit also spoke about being unable to find a rhythm during his second-round win over qualifier Bradley Khan, but he hopes to feel his way in on the Djokovic serve. Easier said than done, particularly when Djokovic sent down 15 aces and got 75% of his first serves in during his victory over Horacio Zeballos.
Keep it short
It’s little secret that Djokovic is a relentless defender who nearly always makes you play one shot too many, so Edmund may find himself coming forward more to avoid losing the baseline battles.
Edmund’s match with Khan also highlighted how he is better off trying to keep the points short, for he won 61% of rallies between 0-4 shots, but just 52% when the rally was five shots or more.
The 50-50 nature of lengthy baselines rallies is a factor which plays into Djokovic’s hands, though there was an indication from the Serb’s win on Thursday that he too would like to keep the points short, as he came to the net 19 times against Zeballos, winning 15 of those points as a result.
Ultimately, there is no simple blueprint on how to beat Djokovic, but Edmund and Rosengren will be frantically working on finding a formula. There will be hope in the Edmund camp that at least one of them can have two things to cheer about on Saturday evening – but it won’t be easy.News Now - Sport News