Pat Cash spoke exclusively to Tennis World about why he believes Federer is far from finished and his new coaching app Pat Cash Tennis Academy
The march of time is undeniably catching up with Roger Federer. His second round Wimbledon defeat to Sergiy Stakhovsky on that balmy Wednesday a fortnight ago was probably the biggest upset at The Championships since Pete Sampras lost to journeyman George Bastl at the same stage 11 years ago. Stakhovsky had sounded the death knell on Federer’s ambitions of adding to his 17 Grand Slam titles. Or so many would have us believe.
Pat Cash has been a permanent presence in the BBC commentary box at Wimbledon over the past decade and the 1987 champion is as well placed as anyone to assess how Federer has faded since he won five titles on the trot between 2003 and 2007.
He firmly believes that the 31 year old still has it in him to win Wimbledon for an eighth time in the next few years.
“Definitely,” Cash said. “For a few years now Federer’s been playing a higher risk game. He’s been taking more risks and that’s been to combat the spin of [Rafael] Nadal. He’s taking the ball much closer to the baseline and trying to exert the pressure straight back on the opponent. But it means it’s slightly riskier, particularly on a grass court and a clay court where the bounce is not quite as predictable. But when he’s hot, he’s hot! It’s hard to stop the guy.”
Federer has been gradually slimming down his schedule in a bid to add to his longevity, taking two months off earlier this year between Indian Wells and the Madrid Masters. But while he feels that more time on the practise court will benefit his game, Cash thinks that the lack of match practise is starting to show.
“One of the problems I found is that at the end of your career you start to play less matches and you’re prioritising your family and it just catches up with you after a while,” he said.
“With Roger it’s not necessarily how fit he is or how well he’s hitting the ball. It’s actually his time off the court. And with lack of matches, you start doubting yourself.”
Priorities also change as you move into your thirties and while Cash certainly isn’t doubting Federer’s desire to win more majors, he doesn’t necessarily have the same burning hunger as he did a decade ago. It’s the accumulation of all these marginal factors which has resulted in the gradual waning of his powers.
“It’s definitely not his movement,” Cash said. “He seems to be moving unbelievably well. Even in the match he lost, some of the shots he got to, it was very impressive. It’s a bit of belief and also tennis is probably not the most important thing in his life anymore. But I absolutely wouldn’t be surprised to see him win another Grand Slam, be it the US Open or one next year.”
Some have questioned whether Federer’s timing isn’t quite as good as it used to be, pointing to the number of shanked forehands and backhands during his French Open defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but from his own experience, Cash has a slightly different explanation.
“It was probably the eyes more than anything as I got older,” he said. “And as they worsen just a little you start throwing in double faults and things like that. Federer missed a smash at the French Open against Tsonga and I was like, what’s going on! Maybe he just had a bad day but it’s just things like that. Federer was one of the best volleyers in the world for a long time but he’s just lost the edge, lost the technique on his volleys a bit. He often snaps at the ball now for whatever reason. So he can’t rely on that anymore to come in and put the opponent off. He’s not a bad volleyer by any means but it’s just not a great volley like he used to have.”
“Last year his volleying in the early rounds at Wimbledon was terrible. He got it working by the time he got to the semis and the final but you can’t have those off days anymore. He missed a handful of volleys in that match with Stakhovsky and it cost him.”
Cash has a keen eye for the biomechanics of the game and the finer details of technique, explaining how Novak Djokovic has improved the consistency on his serve over the years by altering his elbow position.
He’s spent the past few months developing a new downloadable phone app called ‘Pat Cash Tennis Academy’ where he explains how Djokovic and Andy Murray are able to strike the ball the way they do through a series of videos. Cash believes that a lot of the traditional coaching methods are out of date with the modern game and he’s seeking to explain how anyone from club players to professionals can hone every aspect of their tennis, be it serving or returning, based on what today’s leading players do well.
“For me it’s about getting the basics of technique right and understanding why you do it,” Cash said. “The basics of tennis has changed over the years from side-on or closed stances to open stances and a lot of people don’t really understand the reasons why. So one of the things I looked to do with this app was to explain that and how the top players get power, the biomechanics of how Djokovic and Murray do what they do. These are undisputable facts which I never see in any coaching videos!”
“It’s technical without getting bogged down in the technique. Everybody’s different physically - different arm lengths and different gaits but there’s certain basics that you can’t avoid and I try to make those really clear. Some of the traditional stuff had its place back in the day when there were certain courts but a lot of it’s out of date now and this is very much focused on the modern way players hit the ball.”
“Anyone can improve their game. Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to go forwards and on tour a lot of players and coaches aren’t prepared to do that because their livelihoods are at stake but if you can get it right from day one then you’re looking good and that’s where apps like these can make a difference.”
Over the past fortnight, Cash has been following some of the younger players with interest especially in the women’s game where we could be on a verge of a transition period. It was a superb tournament for the youngsters with Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson making headlines.
Cash was especially impressed by the way Robson handled the attention, thriving off the pressure at times to reach the fourth round and like many he expects her to reach the top of the game.
“Robson’s a very good player, I think she’ll continue to do well,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on her when she competes here [at Wimbledon] so it’s a double-edged sword for her being the home favourite each year. Most nations crumble under that although the Americans tend to do well. Being the home favourite actually gives them energy where everywhere else, Australia included, it’s almost crippling. I think we’ll see her [in the latter stages] plenty of times to come. I think she’s got a chance of being a Grand Slam champion or getting to a final. I’d be very surprised if she wasn’t a top ten player in the next 2 or 3 years.”
So who does he expect to form the top five in the women’s game in five years time?
“I don’t think Li Na will still be around but you’d probably say Robson and [Eugenie] Bouchard will be up there. It’s going to change but it’s very even at the top there at the moment other than Serena when she’s running hot. For so many years now we’ve had Li Na, [Victoria] Azarenka, [Francesca] Schiavone, [Sam] Stosur, we’ve had a whole bunch contending and I can see that pattern continuing.”
How to play from the baseline
The expression “to endure the rally” is about those indeterminate moments of a rally where none of the players is leading.
The ability to endure the rally is fundamental when you play a “long rally”, because it offers you the chance to measure your opponent’s strong points and vulnerabilities, besides letting you position as best as possible for your next offensive shot.