Tennis: Old star seen but not hurt

A dabble with the seniors here, a bit of coaching there. Pat Cash is enjoying life inside and outside tennis.
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The Independent Online
IT WAS, somehow, inevitable that Pat Cash should turn up for our chat with his left knee swathed in an ice bag. "It's this cold weather, mate, always starts up my aches and pains," pronounced the Australian with a fair shot at the title of Most Injured Player in the History of Tennis.

Knee, back, shoulder, wrist, appendix, a snapped Achilles tendon. You name it, Pat has been there, hurt that. When he won Wimbledon in 1987 and famously clambered up to the VIP box to embrace his dad, the miracle was that Cash didn't fall and break something.

His summary, "I've been injured my whole career", is a simple statement of fact. This is the man who, three weeks after an appendix operation, reached the 1986 Wimbledon quarter-finals.

Cash, a London resident for 12 years, has been appearing at the Seniors Tour event, the Honda Challenge, at Olympia over the past few days; by courtesy of a wild card since, at 33, he remains two years short of official Senior status.

"I've only played three tournaments this year, so I'm pretty rusty," he pointed out. "I was fit the whole year but it's amazing, the aches always crop up at tennis time. But I have to say everything is pretty good apart from the Achilles, that never recovered. It will never break again, once they sew it back it's twice as thick, but I never got the spring back in my step. I don't have the push-off that I used to have. As long as I warm up and cool down slowly, I'm fine. That's crucial. You learn those tricks. By now I'm a reasonable expert on injuries."

His last competitive match on the ATP Tour was at Stuttgart in October 1997 when he came through the qualifying competition only to lose in the first round. By then he was already disillusioned, having been refused a wild card into the qualifying stages of the US Open. "That was when I gave up hope," he said.

"At this stage I'm not planning to go on the Seniors Tour. It's fun but to do well you've got to play a lot, like John McEnroe. But then if you do that you might as well be on the ATP Tour playing doubles, or even singles. For me, the idea of retiring was to move on with my life and do other things. Right now, playing tennis is the least of my priorities," said the father of adored four-year-old twin sons Jett and Shannon. "I haven't missed it one bit, in fact not playing has been fabulous, having done 15 years on the circuit. But when I want to relax I'll play doubles and a few seniors events, stuff like that. But at this stage about six tournaments a year would be enough.

"It's very funny, actually. There were three things I didn't want to do when I retired - coaching, writing for the papers and I forget the other. Within six months I was a coach and I've been doing newspaper articles in Australia, as well as TV."

Cash's coaching involvement came when he heard of the problems his compatriot Mark Philippoussis was having over not playing in a Davis Cup tie and sent him a supportive fax. "I told Mark to give me a yell if he needed anything when he got to London. After he lost in the first round at Queen's his coach, Gavin Hopper, asked me to have a chat with Mark because he was confused and frustrated. So I talked to him about what I believed was the right way to go about his game. I picked up a couple of things he wasn't doing well and it made a world of difference to his movement."

Cash agreed to go to the US Open with Philippoussis, who got to the final unseeded. They will team up again for the Australian Open in January and discuss working together for the rest of the year. "Gavin is his full- time coach, I'm just a sort of mate really, big brother type of thing. It works well because Mark really trusts me and knows I'm not there to take money off him."

With his rugged good looks, Cash is a natural for the screen and has already dipped into acting. "I had done one scene for a film but couldn't get there for the second scene so I ended up on the editing-room floor before I even got my career started. But there is a possibility of more."

It is in TV tennis commentating that Cash has made a big impact, with a McEnroe-style freshness of approach and attitude. "A lot of the guys who do it are just on automatic pilot. It's a modern game now in a modern era and I just figure commentating is like giving a tennis lesson. I try to explain how it is, pick up little things, but I don't think I'm quite in John's league. I'm a bit more laid back, Australian style.

"There is one problem, though. I'm the worst judge of picking a winner. At the World Championships in Hanover last week we had a competition among the commentators to pick winners of the matches. I think I got two of the nine winners right. I was the lowest of the lot and both my winners were Pete Sampras."

Like Sampras, Pat is an honorary member of the All England Club as a Wimbledon champion. "It's obviously a special place to me because of being the champion there at junior and full level, but though I go there quite a bit to practise I'd never really been inside the club itself.

"But this year I became the only Wimbledon champion ever to play a club match for them, against a team from Yale and Harvard. We beat the college guys and then I got invited upstairs for the first time.

"It's lovely up there," said the square-jawed Aussie with the ice pack on his knee. "I'll have to do it again."