Interview With Pat Cash: Wimbledon, Davis Cup Champion

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A master in the serve-and-volley game, Pat Cash was one of the most prominent tennis figures of the 1980s. He won Wimbledon in 1987 and was the youngest player at the time when he claimed the Davis Cup tournament for Australia in 1983. That decade witnessed a parade of legendary tennis greats such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, and many more. Cash battled them all and reached his peak in 1988 as the No. 4 ranked player in the world. He lost the Australian Open final twice in a row in front of his home crowd, an experience that left him with the biggest disappointment of his career. Cash is remembered for his remarkable athleticism and accomplishments on the court. Today, the man from ‘Down Under’ keeps busy with coaching, running charities, and spending time with his family. Sports History Magazine asked Cash to reminisce about his playing days.

You were ranked the No. 1 junior tennis player in the world in 1981. Who were your tennis heroes growing up?  Well, being Australian I first saw John Newcombe and Ken Rosewall play in front of me. In those days, they used to let the kids sit on the grass next to centre court and I got to see Newk beat Jimmy Connors in the Australian Open final back in, ‘76 was it? Pretty exciting for an 11-year old.

At 18, you won a decisive match against Sweden to clinch the Davis Cup for Australia. How did it feel being the youngest player to ever participate in that tournament, let alone bring home the trophy?  I was the youngest to play a final at the time. Nadal has since beaten that record. I have to say I was very nervous but luckily settled quickly. The match I needed to win was this one, the second singles match on the last day. Fortunately, I had the experience of being out on the court on the first day which helped. I had also won the Victorian Open on the same court a year before but I had no pressure then and let me tell you, it’s a whole different situation when the whole country is expecting a win.

The 1980s saw a wide range of great tennis players such as John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg and many others. Who in your mind stood out as an especially formidable opponent?  All of the names you have mentioned plus the likes of Noah, Leconte, Mecir, and don’t forget the most powerful hitter of them all, Becker. They all had very different styles and tactics every one of them. The courts and balls were different on every stretch of the tour and sometimes every week, so you had to adjust quickly which wasn’t one of my strengths. Lendl did it well as did McEnroe and that’s why they were on the top for most of the mid-late 80s.

You won Wimbledon in 1987, but lost the Australian Open that same year and the next year as well. I’m sure the crowd was overwhelmingly behind you, but it must have been very frustrating to miss the title twice in a row and in your own home.  Without a doubt, my greatest disappointment. It hurts every time I go into Melbourne Park and see all the winners’ names and know I came so close twice. The only consolation is that I played just about as well as I could have in those finals. It just wasn’t meant to be.

You’ve been described as one of the greatest net players of all time. Did you train especially hard for the net, or was that an athletic gift?  Probably both. I was naturally quick and in fact, recorded the fastest ever timed 10 metre sprint on my first day of pre-season back in the late 80s. This is a standard sprint test done by athletes around the world. However, I worked really hard on my agility. I was fortunate to have one of the world speed and agility trainers, Dr Ann Quinn, in my team. She invented all these crazy agility drills that are still in use today but were unheard of back then.

Did it affect your game when the Australian surface changed from grass to hard after 1987?  Hard court definitely makes it easier for the returner or passer, so it meant I had to play at my very best if I was to continue attacking the net. I mixed it up more often with baseline rallies but I made the final the first year at Melboure Park losing a thriller to Wilander 8-6 in the 5th set, so I continued to have results on hard court as well.

What is your most memorable singles match?  It’s hard to go past playing a Wimbledon final but for overall excitement, I think the Davis Cup in 1986 against Mikael Pernfors when I found myself two sets down and somehow ended up winning, and the Wilander match at the Australian Open final.

You were also a prolific doubles player. Who did you enjoy partnering with the most?  Aussies grow up loving to play doubles and learning from the greats that went before me. However, it took a back seat in the few years in between my injuries during the peak of my career. I played mainly with McNamee and Fitzgerald, both close friends and brilliant singles players as well as doubles.

Australia has always produced a lot of tennis talent, both male and female. Some of the older names that come to mind are Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, etc. What do you attribute that to?  Tennis was a bigger sport in the eyes of youngsters back in my day, but we are a sports loving nation. It’s very hard to expect consistent success these days, though Rafter, Hewitt and more recently, Stosur and Barty, have brought us Grand Slam winners with every decade. There are many super talented athletes that go on to play our most loved domestic sports such as Aussie rules or netball for women, instead of tennis.

How do you compare the men’s game today with the way it was played when you were competing?  With the growing slower hard court surfaces around the world and string technology, we are seeing a battle of endurance and consistency. The game has lost some of its flare and variety of styles, but at the very top level it’s mind-blowingly good. Some of the things players can do now we simply could not do with the technology back then.

Is it true you were the first to start the tradition of throwing wristbands and headbands to the stands during competitions? Yes, it all started at Wimbledon in 1985. I always remembered as a kid getting a wrist band from a player I was watching and I treasured it. I wanted to do the same for the fans supporting me. I’ve given away thousands of headbands since.

What do you enjoy doing most at this stage in your life?  I have a passion for the game as a coach. I rebuilt my game technically towards the end of my career with a sports scientist, Brad Langevad. It was tricky but was perhaps the best thing I did as I came to understand modern technique and movement. I created a tennis academy in Australia for 10 years off the back of that knowledge and my experience on tour. There is some information and tennis tips on my website www.patcash.net and some also on youtube. As well as being father to four and grandpa to three beautiful children, in my spare time since 1990 I have founded several charities to help with the environmental issues and also providing sports and education to underprivileged children in Australian cities. I continue to support several others from men’s cancer to indigenous Australians. This is very rewarding and takes up most of my time these days when I’m not on the court.

Other Interviews Enjoyed: Kathrine Switzer (first female marathoner), Hale Irwin (US Open champ), Jim Kelly (QB for Buffalo Bills).

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