Volleying for a difficult art

Volleying for a difficult art

It is perhaps fair to say that Pat Cash started off a second wave of tennis revolution in Australia which paved the way for future stars like Patrick Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and the famous doubles pairing of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.

In a new avatar in India as a playing member of Pune Marathas, a Champions Tennis League (CTL) franchise, Cash still retains the same gusto as he answers questions on the problem of modern strings, his friendship with Iron Maiden’s English guitarist Adrian Smith or the decline of volleying.

Talking in that unique Australian accent of his, the former Wimbledon champion opens up on whether he feels he should have won more titles, the changes in the game and Nick Kyrgios, Australia’s newest tennis sensation. Excerpts:

Back in your day, volleying used to be the norm. These days, you can’t even term it an exception. What has happened to that art? 

I’m disappointed with the governing bodies of tennis because they haven’t done anything about the limitations on strings. That’s the biggest reason for the decline. That and the lack of faster courts. The ball is dropping into the court much more easily than it used to. So it makes it much more difficult to be a volley player. So the juniors don’t develop that. Feliciano (Lopez) is volleying the best of his career, but he’s 33. So too (Radek) Stepanek and some of the others. (Roger) Federer now is starting to volley again.

Over the last 7-8 years, the courts have been so slow that it’s not possible to volley. The ATP are realising that a little bit. The US Open courts were a little faster this year. Now the ITF has a committee where there’s one ex-player out of 12. They have no idea how a tennis string works. The ITF just have people who want to have lunch and get tickets to Wimbledon. They don’t know how the string is damaging the game. Every junior now hits the ball harder than I used to do at that age. That’s not good for tennis.

Apart from volleying, do you see any major differences in the circuit when you were around and now?

The circuit was easier then. You had courts of different speeds. I was actually a baseline player as a junior. I liked attacking. There were grass courts – the Australian Open was played on grass then – grass tournaments and other indoor tournaments that were fast.

So somebody with my style of play could do well. So when you got clay court players on
fast courts, you could beat them, and the other way round. But now, it’s all similar courts and the racquets and strings are so powerful. There’s only one style of play. So there are hundreds of players now who are good at hitting from the back of the court. So it’s much more difficult to come through unless you are exceptional. In my day, you could play three clay courters in a row and you’d be in the semifinals. It’s much tougher now.

Tennis has had its share of colourful characters but more and more players seem to rein in their emotions while on court. Any particular reasons for that?

I don’t know, Marcos Baghdatis can get pretty fired up. Players have realised that to be calm is better. But you need some fire as well to be successful. You look at the players that are calm the whole time, it’s better for a career to be like that. For many years, they tried to stop players getting upset and angry, towards the end of my career. Around the (Pete) Sampras, (Lleyton) Hewitt, (Andre) Agassi era – even though they had passion they had to keep their mouths shut. Now we’re seeing a little bit more I think. But now, you see some passion and the crowds go ‘Boooo’. I mean, what do you want, guys? What?

Do you think you could have won more titles in your career if it weren’t for the injuries? 
Not really, no. I did about as good as I could do. I did have a lot injuries but I wanted to win Wimbledon, Davis Cup, the Australian Open. I realised that my game was not good enough to win the French Open. And you know, I came pretty close. I lost two finals at the Australian Open (1987, 88), won the Davis Cup a couple of times (1983, 86). Injuries are bad but I learnt a lot from injuries. I think I’ve become a better commentator, coach and mentor because of these injuries. I learnt so much about rehabilitation, fitness and agility – all these things that you need to do to come back from injury.

At the time, I had a lot of stress. In Australia, we had so many champions and then nothing.

So the expectation on me was very, very high. I found it very stressful. I was tired. After a few years of playing at a high level, I was tired. I had a young family, two kids who were about to go to school and I was travelling. There were some things I never recovered from 100 percent. My Achilles tendon, I never recovered fully from. It sounded terrible at the time, but now looking back at it, it’s actually a good thing I got injured. I know it sounds crazy but it was actually a good thing.

Speaking of the Australian players, what do you think about Nick Kyrgios, is he the future? 

Yeah, he’s really got it. Not many players you see and think: ‘Wow, this kid’s really got something.’ I’ve seen him ever since he was a junior. I took him on some tours to Mexico and played junior Davis Cup. He had so much more talent than all the other players. If he can stay focused and has no injuries I think he’ll be pushing for Grand Slams in the next two years. He’s the obvious one. I don’t think he’s even the future, he’s now.

Having seen some of the Indian players in action over the last couple of days, what do you make of their quality?

A lot better than I thought. Saketh (Myneni) has got a big serve, one of the biggest I’ve seen. He’s got more than the serve. He’s aggressive; he’s got a big-game attitude. He’s also a good player around the net. Thomas (Enqvist) didn’t believe me when I told him he had a massive serve. Then he admitted it was one of the fastest serves he had ever faced. Saketh’s a very good player. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be among the top 20 doubles players in the world.

Can you explain your relationship with Adrian Smith, the guitarist for heavy metal band Iron Maiden?

Adrian’s a very good tennis player, you know. Very good. He could hit up and down with us on the court, no problems. I was a fan of Iron Maiden back in 1982. They came to Australia, when I was becoming a rising star. I went backstage to a concert and met them all. I saw them for two nights and became friends with Steve (Harris) and Adrian.

Nicko (McBrain) loves his tennis. They were at Rolland Garros for the semifinal of the French Open. They were on the side of the court. I was doing the TV. I called up Adrian and said: ‘How the hell did you get on the side of the court?’ They said the groundsman, who fixes all the courts, was a big Iron Maiden fan. He loves Iron Maiden. So he put them there. I looked out of the media area and there they were, dressed in black. They are great guys. They’re a lot of fun.

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