Stick it under your pillow, Pat
By Richard Hinds
January 31, 2004
When retired athletes are coaxed into the commentary box, usually the problem is getting them to tell it like it is. To stop them protecting former colleagues, to have them break the dressing room code of silence. The problem with Pat Cash is getting him to stop.
Depending on your interpretation of his comments in a recent radio interview, Cash may or may not have insinuated that Mark Philippoussis lost his fourth-round match at the Australian Open to Hicham Arazi because he was "distracted" (to use but one of many possible euphemisms) by the ailing songstress Delta Goodrem.
His comments were clumsy at best, stupid at worst. As a former coach, Cash has significant insight into what makes the enigmatic Philippoussis tick. Although he has become something of a rent-a-quote, his words still carry some weight with the media. Reporters were literally queuing for an audience with the former Wimbledon champion at Melbourne Park this week. With that role comes a responsibility to deal in fact, not speculation.
But Cash knows all about that. Throughout his career, he was almost as fast to rebuke a journalist he believed had twisted the facts as he was to put away a volley. Before one Davis Cup final he tangled with a camera crew at Kooyong simply because they got in his face.
You can't imagine Cash suffers any remorse about that. He says he has high standards. He claims he demands the type of honesty and integrity from others that he himself provided in what may be described as a "typically frank" autobiography released last year.
Cash writes with touching candour in that book about the time in 1985 when he reluctantly left Melbourne to play the US Open. It was a decision he regrets, because not long before his departure his half-brother had committed suicide.
As you might expect, Cash was distracted, depressed and unable to perform anywhere near his best in New York. That his performance was below par would have been evident to all. But, without knowing the background, some may have leapt to the conclusion that the usually lion-hearted Cash was not putting in. Perhaps he had been out partying. Guesses like that are easy to make, especially if there are other factors that may sway your opinion.
In his autobiography, Cash confesses to having used recreational drugs. He wrote: "When I played my first time at Wimbledon, I'd keep a joint under my pillow and have a smoke every night. It calmed me down."
In an interview with London's The Daily Mail after the biography was released last year, Cash said he had started to use cocaine in 1985 when he was injured. "No-one enjoys pain. I found I could enlist the help of the ultimate party animal [cocaine] to help me forget my ailments for just one night."
This recitation is not intended as a criticism of Cash. On the contrary, it is a pity some of these details did not surface earlier. Knowing about the battle he waged with depression and injury might have helped those in the media who covered his career understand why his play was occasionally below his best and his behaviour sometimes erratic - particularly those reporters Cash believed were too harsh in their judgements.
Cash seems to think the factors that have stopped Philippoussis doing better are more easily overcome than his own struggles. He talks of how Philippoussis is more physically gifted than he was - strange to those who admired Cash's own incredibly athletic game. However, regardless of their poisoned personal relationship, it seems unfortunate Cash does not have more empathy for a player whose record is remarkably similar to his own.
Cash will always be remembered for his sole grand slam triumph, at Wimbledon in 1987, particularly as it came at a time when Australian tennis was at such a low point. That was one of three grand slam finals for Cash; Philippoussis has played in two. Cash was twice the hero of an Australian Davis Cup triumph; Philippoussis has also featured in two famous victories. But Philippoussis has been more productive on the regular tour, winning 10 titles to Cash's six.
"When I was playing . . . I was 100 per cent dedicated," says Cash. "I think it's a frustration that when I was working with Mark . . . I didn't have his physical ability, but I worked hard and I got somewhere."
But was it really as far as his talent could have taken him? Was an Achilles injury the only reason he will always be considered a very good player, but not a great one like contemporaries such as Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker? Is Philippoussis's career being ruined by his penchant for famous women?
Difficult questions - so it's best not to guess.