Cash follows crowd-pleasing antics with criticism

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The Independent Online

After securing the opening set of his round-robin match against Mikael Pernfors of Sweden at the Honda Challenge yesterday, Pat Cash tossed one of his chequered headbands over his shoulder and into the crowd. As a grey-haired woman in the second row began to make a move towards it, she was outmanoeuvred by a boy in the front row who claimed the prize for his mother.

Back in the mid-1980s, when Cash was a Wimbledon champion, the Australian frequently asked courtesy car drivers to stop and wait while he handed similar trademark headbands to spectators in the queues on Church Road.

Veterans events can be relied upon to provide gentle reminders and amusing interludes. Few of those who pay to attend are daft enough to believe they are watching anything more than light entertainment. That is why familiar rituals or parodies, such as John McEnroe's spats with umpires, tend to be greeted with the camp "ooohs" associated with television game shows.

McEnroe, irked by "shit calls" went so far as to invite a barracker to "come down here and kiss my ass", an invitation that was ignored. Apparently motivating himself by rage, real or imagined, McEnroe recovered from dropping the opening set to Jeremy Bates after leading the former British No 1 in a tie break, 5-1, to take the second set 6-4 and win a champions tie-break (first to 10 points), 10-4.

The one disappointing moment was the exit of Boris Becker, who aggravated a disc problem in his lower back during his opening round win against Pernfors on Wednesday evening.

Pernfors, who came in for the injured John Lloyd, also lost to Cash yesterday, 6-4, 4-6, 10-7, in a champions tie-break. It may be remembered that in 1987, while Cash was on his way to winning a singles title at Wimbledon, Pernfors lost to Jimmy Connors in the fourth round after leading 6-1, 6-1, 4-1.

For the media, some of the most telling activity takes place in the interview room. Cash obliged by adding to his previous criticism of the Lawn Tennis Association with regard to the coaching of players.

Brad Langevad, the biomechanic from Cash's tennis academy in Queensland who was hired by Greg Rusedski for the best part of a year, has spent a fortnight working on the technical problems of some of the British players being groomed to take the strain off Tim Henman and Rusedski. Cash, who often practices with the group, that includes Martin Lee, Lee Childs, James Nelson and Simon Dickson, contends that greater attention needs to be paid to their technical needs. "What the LTA are doing is a step in the right direction, and better than nothing," Cash said, "but two weeks is a pretty feeble attempt to correct the technical problems of four players. All these players are very talented and work very hard, but the the players who win titles are technically good.

"Technically, I wasn't very good, which is why I was inconsistent. Sampras is technically perfect. The British guys try like hell. But no matter how hard you try and how mentally tough you are, if you've got technical errors it will show if you come to play a big match."

Cash also suggested it would be more beneficial for the group to spend a month training outdoors in Australia at this time of the year instead of practising indoors in London. "That way they would at least be among the fittest young players in the Australian tournaments," he said.

He added: "How many years are you going to have in your career? Ten Christmases going away to train isn't a lot. It would be great if a few coaches went to Australia and worked with this group for a month. But I don't want to be bad-mouthing the LTA all the time, because they are moving in the right direction."

Patrice Hagelauer, the LTA's performance director, will be pleased to read the last sentence, having written to Cash on the subject yesterday. "Everyone is entitled to their opinions," Hagelauer said, "and, as you know, I am very aware that change is needed in this country if we are to produce more champions. But I feel it is unfair to suggest we don't want to work with you... Negotiating through the media has never been my style."

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