Pat Cash: “…the hardest graduation in the world of sport is going from junior tennis to the cruel, hard world on the main tours.”THE second week of Wimbledon will begin tomorrow with Australia’s representation just a small doubles presence and a few junior hopefuls, including defending titleholder Luke Saville in the boys’ event. A year ago, it was all about soon-to-be quarter-finalist Bernard Tomic; 12 months on, 1987 champion Pat Cash has joined the chorus of those questioning the teenager’s commitment – a list that includes Tomic himself.
”This time last year the Australian tennis public were also getting very excited about Bernard Tomic becoming the youngest player since Boris Becker in 1986 to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon,” Cash said. ”Surely that should have been a platform from which he could propel himself, but I was so disheartened by his attitude at last year’s US Open and the French Open just a couple of weeks ago when it seemed he didn’t want to be there.”
Cash endorsed the words of Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter, who told The Age last week that Tomic’s inadequate preparation had nobbled his Wimbledon campaign, which consisted of a four-set, first-round loss to Belgian David Goffin. Simply: if Tomic puts in the work, he will get results, if he doesn’t, he won’t.
Writing in his British newspaper column, London-based Cash also lamented the decline of Australian tennis, recalling that the nation’s innate competitiveness extends to every sporting endeavour, ”but back in my boyhood, tennis came out top of everything because we’d had the best [players] and us youngsters yearned to follow in their footsteps”.
”So being somebody who never felt prouder than representing my country, there’s a real hollow feeling inside after Australian men’s tennis suffered the worst Wimbledon since 1938 with not a single player managing to reach the second round. Then to make things even worse, Samantha Stosur, the reigning US Open champion, was made to look very ordinary as she also got beaten.
”How did I feel at the greatest tennis nation in the world descending to the depths of being less than ordinary? Not angry, not ashamed but extremely disappointed. But can I say I’m hugely surprised? The honest answer to that question would have to be ‘not really’.”
While acknowledging the huge changes in tennis – both geographically and stylistically – in the past few decades and the impact of Australians no longer learning their craft on grass, Cash lamented what he called ”a dearth of former top quality players working with Tennis Australia to help these youngsters”.
”I’ve made it clear I’m more than willing to help and so have other former world-class performers like Mark Woodforde and Peter McNamara,” Cash said.
TA counters that there are about 20 ex-players involved in its programs, including Rafter, Tony Roche, Jason Stoltenberg and Woodforde, the junior Davis Cup captain. ”Our priority is finding quality coaches who are prepared to commit to 30 weeks of travel as that is where they need to be to make an impact on our young athletes in transition to the senior ranks,” said TA’s head of professional tennis, Todd Woodbridge.
Cash said that in Saville and 16-year-old girls’ champion Ashleigh Barty, Australia has ”exceptionally good” young players coming through. ”But, as anyone will tell you, the hardest graduation in the world of sport is going from junior tennis to the cruel, hard world on the main tours. And a good youngster requires somebody with experience to help he or she on the way.”
The men’s main draw numbers encapsulate the decline. In Rod Laver’s grand slam year, 1969, Australia had 26 representatives for 16 first-round winners and all four semi-finalists. In Pat Cash’s title year, 1987, 11 players won five first-round matches and one semi-final. A decade ago, in Lleyton Hewitt’s year, all four made it to the second round. This year: four players, zero wins.
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