`I'm glad I'm out of this cesspit'

The selfish culture of tennis was bad enough in his day, says former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, but it's worse than ever in the rotten, bitching, me-me-me world of the modern game. And as for the hangers-on... By Spencer Vignes.

It was the late Willie Stargell, the former Pittsburgh Pirate, who once compared life to a train when he quipped: "You expect delays from time to time, but not a derailment."

It is a line Pat Cash, no great admirer of baseball, nor for that matter so much to do with modern tennis, identifies with.

Twenty years ago the brash Australian with the trademark headband was about to embark on a Wimbledon campaign that would culminate in his one and only Grand Slam title. It is frequently seen nowadays, but Cash's climb through the Centre Court crowd towards his loved ones in the players' gallery, after he had disposed of Ivan Lendl in the final, remains one of SW19's most memorable images.

Cash remembers the act now as "madness" given the "Don't make a fool of yourself" surroundings of the All England Club.

A decade later, the Pat Cash express, low on coal and out of puff over the previous couple of years, hit the buffers in spectacular fashion. His depression was so bad that he contemplated the same way out of this world that his close friend Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS, had apparently taken — suicide. Nagging injuries that had crippled his body and damaged his world ranking were partly to blame, together with the break-up of his marriage. But what really threatened to tip the scales, he says, was the way tennis turned its back on him in his hour of need.

"Nobody wanted anything to do with me," remembers Cash. "I'm talking about tennis associations, tournaments, people who once threw money at me and begged me to do anything. I thought they were my friends. I'd ask them for a wildcard into qualifying, not even the main draw, and they wouldn't give me one.

"The classic was going to the Sydney International Tournament before the Australian Open. I wanted to get a wildcard there. I was actually starting to play quite well then and wanted to just get a couple of matches and play in the main draw. It's a small tournament and here I am a Grand Slam winner, and this guy looked at me and said, `Oh no, Richard Fromberg is a much bigger draw card here in Sydney.'

"I went, `Wait a minute, he's not even from Sydney,' but the guy said, `Well we think he's a much bigger draw card. We're going to give him the wildcard instead of you.'

"And I said, `Mate, I played Davis Cup matches here for how many years? What can you say to that?' I mean Richard Fromberg is a nice guy. I don't mean anything against him, but do you know Richard Fromberg? Because most people don't, you know what I'm saying? I just realised how bad tennis is as a community. It's not like a rugby club or that sort of stuff. It's a really nasty, bitter environment where everybody is in it for their own thing.

"When I really needed people like the ATP who I'd been a member of for ever, helped them break away from the governing body and create a tour themselves, they wouldn't even give me wildcards into qualifying events. That really pissed me off. In my last year I think I contacted 30 tournaments just to try and get wildcards. I got four in singles and two in qualifiers, one of them being Wimbledon. I was even ditched financially by one tournament organiser who forced me out of playing and took my money. I went, `That's it. I've had enough of tennis. I'm not going to put up with this any more.'"

The good news is that Cash managed to turn his life around thanks to a combination of therapy, retirement (`I was much happier once I'd decided to pack it in') and his children. The bad news is that tennis, at least in his opinion, is even more of a selfish, backstabbing community today that it was during the twilight of a career that also included two consecutive appearances in the final at the Australian Open, plus victory in the 1986 Davis Cup.

"It's getting worse and worse. When I was growing up you played in your team, you played for your country, you had your coach who you looked after for years. I had a great relationship with my coach. Tim Henman is from that ilk and Andre Agassi, some of the nice guys. They hang on to their coaches and treat them well.

"Then there's the young guys who get a new coach every other week. They change their management, they change this, they change that, complaining and bitching. That's modern tennis, unfortunately.

"It's shocking. There's more hangers-on. They've always been there, but it's got beyond belief now. I'm on about tennis associations, management, people who can unsettle players and are meant to have their interests at heart. I was at the French Open and it was lots of fun talking to players, seeing old friends. Then came the women's final and the men's — and you barely recognise anybody because of all the hangers-on.

"They're pushing in at the restaurants in front of the junior players and seniors like me, being loud and rude. These are people who have got their tickets and don't bother about tennis really.

"They've got their men's final tickets, their women's' final tickets, and they're trampling over everyone because all they care about is themselves. They're not the people we want in tennis. We want people who are passionate about the sport, who care and do their best.

"You know tennis is a game that really doesn't have any morals. You have mums and dads beating their daughters and crap like that. We've all heard about it and seen it in the headlines. It's ridiculous and it still goes on."

Despite his outspoken nature, the modern Pat Cash is happy keeping a relatively low profile. He does the odd bit of punditry, plays on the seniors' tour and devotes much of his time to causes such as the humanitarian charity Goal.

Reality TV is not for him, and he despises celebrity culture only marginally less then tennis hangers-on.

"I was approached to do the first series of that show where they go in the jungle, which is made round the corner from my tennis academy back home.

"The only reason I thought about doing it was to make money for Goal, but I thought, `I'm not going to spend five days in the jungle making some production company rich!' This modern media thing is amusing but just not for me. Jordan and that sort of stuff, for God's sake. If Jordan's on a magazine, bless her soul, I'd absolutely refuse to get it. And Paris Hilton! When Paris Hilton is the biggest bloody phenomenon of all time there's something strange going on. What I'm saying is I'm sort of happy floating under the radar. That's me these days."

@ Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007