`Tennis is over-coached'

"The fame is to do with the Wimbledon win. The climb up the stands became famous and the chequered headband made me different."

Amitabha Das Sharma

S. PATRONOBISH

HE is much more than a champion — the name Pat Cash still conjures images of a fighter nonpareil and of an untiring athlete overreaching physical limits to reach his target. Cash, who hit the tennis scene as the top junior of the world winning the Wimbledon and the US Open, reached five Grand Slam finals and touched the height of glory winning Wimbledon in 1987. Recurrent injuries curtailed his career but Cash set up his international tennis academy. As ebullient and handsome as ever, Cash, 39, paid a short visit to Kolkata where he conducted a tennis clinic on the invitation of the Bengal Tennis Association. He spoke to The Sportstar during his hectic schedule in the city.

Question: It has been 18 years since you made that joyous climb through the centre court seats after wining the Wimbledon title in 1987. How would you reflect on the Pat Cash of then?

Answer: I am definitely a different person now. I really feel I was a kid then. Though I had become a dad then, I certainly feel I was a child. It has been a long journey since then. I have learned a lot, experienced a lot, and it's been a strange, funny old life. But it's exciting and good, and I never thought I would be what I am today.

Are you happy with your achievements as a player?

Winning Wimbledon and the Davis Cup were my two goals. I achieved both at a pretty early age in life. But, I didn't know that so many injuries would come thereafter. That caused so much heartache but then there is the other side of life as well, the one away from tennis. That part of my life too has been interesting.

What about your temperament now? Your climb up the centre court seats made you out as some kind of an iconoclast. In that respect, where do you find yourself now?

I have calmed down a lot but still I have my moments. But sometimes I used to wonder why I used to get so upset trying to set my determination level higher. I still am a determined man, but I do not have the will to win at any cost. When I played competitive tennis, every match was like the most important thing in the world. Somewhere deep down me, however, I knew it was not like that but that did not change my approach on the court because I took my tennis very seriously. I knew that chances do not come in a heap, and so I gave more than 100 per cent to realise the goal I had set for myself.

Your name has been in circulation long after you stopped playing top-level tennis. How do you explain this?

I suppose it has to do with the way I won the Wimbledon. The climb up the stands became quite famous and my chequered headband made me different from others. I played with passion. Maybe, I was not the greatest player of all time but I feel I was probably one of the best athletes, and I am proud of that. I am one of those lucky few, who could have played any sport. Had I played cricket, I would be the best cricketer, had I played football I would be best in that or if I did running, I would be a winner in that too. I had a lot of physical talent.

Did you try any other sport?

I played both cricket and Australian football. I became the school captain of the cricket team when I was 13 or 14. Then tennis took over and I spent all my time and energy in developing that sport.

What are your feelings about being the youngest inductee in the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame?

They had already done with old people and there was nobody left (laughs). Now that I have got my entry Pat Rafter must be coming up next or maybe Mark Woodforde because there isn't really any one else to be picked. So, I don't really take it very seriously. Though it may sound strange, I have mixed reactions about Australian Tennis. I have played with all my heart for my country but in the end the Australian Tennis Association turned their back on me for no reason. I have a love-hate relationship with them, though it has been years since it happened.

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Do you think it will be better if former players got into sport administration?

Certainly, in some areas the players will be better managers. Coaching is one such sphere. But, when it comes to business and making profits, it is better to be left with people who are professionally qualified. In coaching, public relations and junior development, it will be crucial to get former players involved. Unfortunately, I have never been asked to do anything for my association even though I have asked them many times if they could help me or I could help them. It is disappointing when you have a tennis centre and offer help and don't even get a reply like, `Thank you for your letter'. It's rude, I must say.

Is Alicia Molik the face of Australian women's tennis now? What is your opinion about her game?

She has the talent but she gets injured most of the time. But, she has the best serve in the women's circuit — even Venus Williams' serves look mediocre in comparison. If Alicia can keep serving like that she will be very dangerous. I just hope that she can remain injury free because she's a big girl and can be slowed down by injury if she's not careful. It often happens with the Australian players that they take a few years to mature. It happened with Pat Rafter, and also with John (Fitzgerald) and Mark (Woodforde), though Lleyton (Hewitt) and me do not fall in this category (laughs).

Will Roger Federer become one of the all-time-great tennis players?

He is one of the greats already. But whether he'll become an all-time great, only time will tell. Again, one has to understand what kind of competition he is facing. And there he is, way above everybody else in today's field. If I talk about the great era of the `80s, I had to reckon with the rivalry of the likes of John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker. Today, there is no such intense rivalry as there was then. There is Hewitt, who is world class and who has got Federer's number, but Roddick has the potential to be better. Marat Safin is brilliant but he is inconsistent. Even Pete Sampras did not have any competition for many years and that's one of the reasons why he got so many titles. In the absence of good consistent rivalry — the likes of Rafael Nadal are yet to mature — Federer will rule. He is certainly one of the most complete players I have seen but I have always regarded Sampras as the best.

Learning from a real professional: Pat Cash with the young trainees of the Bengal Tennis Association in Kolkata.-S. PATRONOBISH

What are your predictions about Rafael Nadal?

I have known him for many years and played him in an exhibition tournament when he was only 15, and he was brilliant then. So, I have been watching him go up, up and up. His intensity is really appreciable and he hits the ball extremely hard. Physical fitness is another great attribute of Nadal. He is extremely quick and now he is gaining on strength too. So, he is a big danger, certainly on clay. I can say he is going to do win the French Open very soon, this year or the next year. I feel he will go very close to winning this year. He is the one who is challenging Federer, probably not on grass but on all other surfaces.

Andre Agassi recently asked the International Tennis Federation to give a re-look to the Davis Cup format to allow the participation of the top players. Do you feel the same way?

He kept saying `no' to Davis Cup for many years. He was one of the reasons that started the trend of the top players not playing the Davis Cup. The world was shocked when he said he did not want to play for his country. He should look at himself and say, `I am one of the main problems because I didn't put my hand up to play for my country when I could have.' Andre is a great champion and is one my favourite players of all time. I coach here and I talk about Agassi all the time but unfortunately he started the bad trend in Davis Cup.

You mean, it is not the format but the resolve of the players that will determine the line-up of the Davis Cup teams?

Certainly, I see no reason why top players should not play for their country. I cannot accept the excuse the players give about other tournaments coming in the way of Davis Cup — it's absolute rubbish. It is a disgrace if you do not play for you country if you can. I cannot work out why one cannot play for his country when he is given a chance. That's one of the reasons why I cannot be a Davis Cup captain because I am very passionate about playing for my country. John McEnroe too shares a similar view. When he was captain of the American Davis Cup team, he told me, "I am not going to beg Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi to play Davis Cup. If they do not have passion for their country as I do, I am not going to be involved in it."

According to Pat Cash, Andre Agassi (above) is responsible for the trend of star players not representing their countries in the Davis Cup.-REUTERS

In your stint as a coach, you have been advocating to simplify tennis. What do you mean by this?

Tennis is over-coached. The sport is actually very simple. The body positionings that are being taught for many years in the coaching system in India are really more difficult than what the modern approach should be. Tennis coaching is actually getting simpler even though more data and science have become part of it. It's as simple as asking someone, `you stand and you swing and let the body do the rest.' I said this to the kids here and most of them have found the new method easy. So, I had to first de-coach them and then re-coach them.

How do you balance coaching and charity work? Are you still the UK president of the charity organization GOAL?

Yes, I am still the UK president of GOAL but I guess I'll be losing the post very soon as I am not staying in London very often. I help with charity whenever I get break from my coaching schedule. Ideally, I would like to devote more time to charity and at some stage I will be able to fulfil that commitment. Still, I do whatever I can and try to raise funds by spreading awareness about the objectives of my organisation in different parts of the world.