Gear Talk: Q&A with Pat Cash

by: Richard Pagliaro | March 16, 2011

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200911070705255359648-p2@stats_com Adhering to an Australian tradition of advancing forward, Pat Cash took Grand Slam tennis upward in an ascent that marked the convergence of competitor and crowd.

Cash conquered world No. 1 Ivan Lendl to capture the 1987 Wimbledon crown and climbed into the Centre Court seats to embrace his father, coach and girlfriend in celebration. That victory tour completed a fortnight that saw Cash dispatch a trio of elite players—Mats Wilander, Jimmy Connors and Lendl—without surrendering a set.

The Aussie serve-and-volleyer and part-time guitar player, whose trademark checkerboard headband was a tribute to one of his favorite bands, Cheap Trick, set a precedent that has made modified crowd surfing a popular choice for many newly-crowned champions. It also earned him a polite request from All England Club officials.

“They told me it was great that I did it, but asked me not to do it again if I won again,” Cash recalls with a grin.

That wasn’t the first time Cash won at Wimbledon—he was a junior champion as well. Last summer, Cash took home another trophy at SW19, partnering with Mark Woodforde to win the Wimbledon senior doubles. In doing so, Cash became the first man in the Open Era to win Wimbledon titles as a junior, professional and senior player.

These days, the 45-year-old is still engaging crowds as a competitor on the senior circuit. Now a grandfather, Cash surprised his former charge, Mark Philippoussis, a player 11 years his junior, last month at Delray Beach with a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 10-8 win, and commemorated the occasion by tossing his sweatbands and headband into the crowd.

Though he began playing tennis on a red clay court with a Ken Rosewall junior model racquet, Cash’s sporting path is rooted on grass—he grew up dreaming of playing Australian Rules Football before making the switch to tennis, but retained the rough-and-tumble, aggressive approach from his younger days.

An attacking player in the Aussie tradition of serve-and-volley players stretching back to Lew Hoad, Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgman, Fred Stolle and John Newcombe, and continuing through Patrick Rafter, Cash helped lead Australia to Davis Cup championships in 1983 and 1986. During his career, Cash won seven singles and 12 doubles titles. He was a singles finalist at the Australian Open in 1987 and 1988 and was a semifinalist at the U.S. Open in 1984.

We caught up with Dunlop-endorser Cash in Delray Beach for this interview about his gear and game. Pat, how have the advancements in racquet and string technology changed the game? How has technology impacted your game?

Pat Cash: I think the biggest thing, for me, is the difference in the strings. The racquets are more powerful now and you can hit the ball harder, but the racquets haven’t changed too dramatically in recent years. I think the strings have had the biggest impact on the game. For me, it’s gone too far. I think the ITF should step up and regulate string technology. There’s too much spin on the ball and there’s too much power. It’s killing the volley and making the game more boring because you don’t get the contrasting styles as much; it’s a very similar baseline game now. Shots are dipping in now with these strings that, 20 years ago, would not go in, so you have to play more safely. Years back, you couldn’t afford to hit the ball so hard because you couldn’t keep the ball in the court. Watching you beat Philippoussis in Delray Beach, you were using the chip very effectively, changing up the pace frequently and of course working your way into net when you could. Is that more difficult for you to do with polyester strings, or are you playing half and half?

Pat Cash: I play half and half. I think (polyester) helps on the serve and on the ground strokes; even on the slice I feel I can get more bite on the ball. The only shot that the strings don’t really help is the volley. You don’t have the same control. You don’t need power on the volley, you need the control. So that’s the only shot it doesn’t really help you on and it’s the shot I use the most. I like to mix the play up and keep the opponent guessing, and that’s the way I’ve always played, but there’s less chance of doing that now. You’re 45 years old now and you look very strong on court. What are you doing for your fitness?

Pat Cash: It’s a bit of variety; I try to do all sorts of stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of martial arts. I do this particular type called Feldenkrais, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s about body movement and getting body control. It’s more along the lines of Pilates than anything else. I don’t do weights too much anymore. I do pull-ups and hop jumps and jumps up stairs and stuff like that. You can’t be too tight when you’re playing tennis. When you’re out there playing two hours or more you just can’t carry too much weight on you. The weights make you heavy. Are there any young players out there whose style of play really excites you? Any young player you like to watch?

Pat Cash: Kei Nishikori is a good up-and-comer. He’s not the biggest guy out on tour, but he takes the ball early and he can hit it bloody hard. He has a good sense of the court. The Bulgarian kid, [Grigor] Dmitrov, I think he’s an exciting player who seems to have some all-court ability, which is fun to watch. The Lithuanian kid, [Richard] Berankis, is also an interesting player who can be exciting to watch. Is Bernard Tomic the real deal?

Pat Cash: The real deal as far as what? Is Tomic capable of being a consistent Top 20 player?

Pat Cash: He’s got ability, there’s no question about that, but I think he’s struggled with his consistency. He’s not very stable at the moment. He’s got a bit of maturing to do. He’s 19 now, he’s big and tall and strong and he’s still learning. I think he’s one of those guys who will be able to upset players, but I’m not sure he’s a guy who will be consistently in the Top 10. I don’t know that at this stage. You coached Mark Philippoussis to the U.S. Open final. Would you ever consider coaching full-time on the ATP Tour?

Pat Cash: I never say never. I’ve got plenty of things going on at the moment. I love coaching and I love teaching so I’d never say never. I don’t think there’s that many good all-around coaches now, so they get snapped up when they are let go. That’s the nature of the beast. Are still running your academy in Australia?

Pat Cash: I still have my academy out there. I’m opening up some smaller academies around the Caribbean. We’ll be opening one in St. Vincent, the Dominican Republic and in St. Lucia and Barbados as well, in the next four or five years. They’re resort tennis academies. Do you think Roger and Rafa can continue this rivalry at the top and continue to face off for major titles for a few years to come?

Pat Cash: I don’t see any reason why not. Roger set the benchmark for so many years and some of the top guys have caught up with him. You have to give Roger credit for trying to become a better player. But I think he was in cruise control for so long, I think he might have missed his opportunity to become a better player. I think he should have incorporated that attacking style earlier, but you can’t fault him because he was winning so much, and it’s hard to change when you’re doing that.

He’s trying to be more aggressive, but I think he falls back into a defensive kind of game at times, and guys like Rafa and Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych have shown they can beat him from the back of the court. It’s pretty hard to beat those guys from the back of the court, so he’s got to use his all-court ability more. He hasn’t done that consistently of late.

A guy with his talent is going to be challenging all the time, but then you’ve got other guys like Andy Murray on the cusp of trying to break through, so it doesn’t get any easier. I think some of it will come down to how his body holds up as well.

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