Cash taking a leaf out of an unorthodox textbook

Andy Martin on the guru whose unusual methods could start a tennis revolution

Pat Cash and I, aside from the minor detail that he has won Wimbledon, have a lot in common. We're both handsome devils, six-foot, modest, and have had our share of injury problems over the years. And now we both sit before the videos of the same guru.

One of the differences between us is that he is playing in the Australian Open next week and I'm not. But as he winds up to wallop his first serve in his opening game, I know he will be thinking something like this: "Don't swing the right leg round. Hop forwards on the left." And he will be hoping his new technique will not only win him the match but spare his back from further torment. Cash's old serve - club the ball with the right arm, follow it round with the right leg and race it to the net - generated a lot of torque but only at the cost of a short spinal shelf-life. The new Cash serve was tailor-made for him in Sydney by Brad Langevad, Australia's new tennis Svengali who promises to put Nick Bollettieri and all other gurus out of a job.

My road to Damascus began on a tarmac court at Glenmore Road Junior School overlooking Sydney harbour where my four-year-old son was having his first tennis lesson. Patrick Jensen's gospel ran counter to everything I had ever learned. "I'm just one of the apostles," he said modestly, and drove me to Jensens Tennis Club in Alfred Park to introduce me to the man he called "the Messiah".

Brad Langevad is tennis's answer to Albert Einstein and Billy Graham combined. He has come up with the "Grand Unified Theory" and is marketing it in book and video form under the heading of Sports Biometrics. "This is the answer to all your problems," heassured me. "It'll even improve your surfing."

Langevad is a physiologist who was doing research on fat cells in sheep when he had the idea of applying his techniques to tennis. He started analysing body angles, then he got hooked and brought the laptop home and collected all the tennis videos he could get his hands on and built up a statistical overview.

Eureka - nothing the pros were doing corresponded with what the coaching textbook says they ought to do. Top-level practice has completely broken away from theory, but we're still teaching the old orthodoxy. "I felt as if I'd been touched by God," he said.

The great news is that he has come up with a simple solution to that old conundrum: How come we can't win Wimbledon anymore? Forget history, psychology, and the weather. The answer is footwork. We've been putting all our weight on the front-foot when al l along it should have been on the back. This is what Langevad calls "front-foot anxiety".

He worked through a tape of Newcombe-Laver and for two hours they did not play a single forehand off the front foot. "You never want to be on the front foot," he said. "Except through momentum." He is not exactly preaching lean back and scoop, but as a learning technique he encourages people to try it just to overcome the opposite tendency.

"Side-on anxiety" is Langevad's next point of attack: you should be facing the net more or less front-on, not sideways - so you can eye your adversary, not peek at him over your shoulder. Langevad said his whole philosophy could be summed up as: "get outyour tennis textbook and do precisely the opposite."

In Sydney new converts were flocking to Jensens Tennis Club. One securities trader was seduced because he agreed that "you make it by breaking all the rules". A 12-year-old boy said simply: "That was the best day of my life." The Australian Tennis Federation is rumoured to be making approaches.

Back in Fulham and equipped with the Langevad serve, Pat Cash nevertheless had a more advanced attitude towards the coach's global claims. His career might have been scripted by an author with a highly melodramatic imagination. "One minute you win Wimbledon, the next you can't walk," as he put it. He has had to make more comebacks than Sinatra. He is an intuitive player who likes to rely on raw natural talent. But his body - discs, cartilages, tendons , appendix - has kept more surgeons and physios and trainers in gainful employment than most injury-stricken football teams.

The long periods of enforced inertia, after a couple of days of wishing it had happened to Pete Sampras instead, have turned Cash into a contemplative observer of the tennis scene. He is ready and willing to apply technology to tissue. A forthcoming edition of the BBC programme How Do They Do That? shows Cash demonstrating the "dual biofeedback" device which he plugs into his knee to give an instant read-out of the relative ergs exerted by his outside and inside muscles.

However, Cash remains sceptical about the notion of a "science of tennis". He is not going to turn his game upside down. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, is his view. "I was always being told to change my backhand - and that's my best shot."

With John McEnroe, he has led a backlash against the depersonalisation of tennis. "Every player is different. Becker is the classic example. Everyone started trying his serve - with more of a forehand grip - and before long no one could serve any more - not even Becker."

Langevad's answer is that "without a purely intellectual system which tells you what is and is not truth, you're lost." He is just as much against anonymity in tennis as Cash. "With this system, you're not cloning players - you're freeing them. You have

no play with emotions - like a wild animal. My technique opens up your individuality."

Sports Biometrics will probably be seen as the zen of tennis, but technically it is more pre-Socratic, privileging the pagan instinctive way we used to play before coaches came along and started screwing us all up.

Langevad may not be doing away with idiosyncratic tennis players, but he is liable to cause a sharp rise in unemployment among the coaching profession. He offers a system of coaching which is anti-coaching. "Ultimately this is the death of coaches or coaches as we know them," he said. "The coach of the 21st century will become a manager, an organiser, or a psychologist."

According to Langevad, "guys like Bollettieri and Tiriac are just guessing - they happen to be the best guessers in the world, that's all. Bollettieri is astute, but he has got Agassi and Courier in a mess. With my system, I can tell Andre exactly what is wrong with his backhand."

Langevad is a prophet virtually without ego. "It's almost too much for me," he said, "too much responsibility. At heart all I want is to be a beach bum." But at the same time his faith is absolute: "Sports Biometrics is going to give the world the truth about sport."

Tennis is just the start of his global revolution. Already stored in the computer are golf, skiing, and, finally, anything else. "I haven't even touched running yet. But I bet the bad runners are leaning too far forwards. I bet I can even fix Michael Jordan's baseball technique. He's probably too far forwards."

Having only recently emerged from involuntary retirement, Cash doesn't realistically expect to be in world-beating form until later in the year. As for me, Langevad said: "you can be as good as you want to be."

Jensen promised: "I can make you into a pro - it isn't too late." I've got rid of the old front-foot anxiety all right. Now all I need is someone to fix my back-foot anxiety.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
A speech made by the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister urging women not to laugh in public in order to preserve morality has sparked a backlash on social media from women posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at his remarks.
GALLERYWhy are Turkish women having a chuckle at the government's expense?
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN KS1 Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Qualified and experi...

KS2 Teacher

£21588 - £31552 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Exceptional teacher ...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to be part ...

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are currently recruitin...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star