Pat Cash: Why Dad was top of the pops
My father was the perfect tennis parent – a dad first and manager second
People don’t remember my Wimbledon title for the way I performed, and many would be hard pushed to name the man I beat in the final. The thing that sticks in most minds is that celebratory climb I made to the players’ box. You could say it was the defining moment of my life.
It would be churlish to say the performance I had just produced on Centre Court was secondary to me on the day. I still look back on the way I outplayed Ivan Lendl with an enormous sense of pride. Yet in many respects it was just a prelude to me doing something I had been contemplating for years. Sure, I planned it, and looking at the video clip or the photographs has always left a lump in my throat because of what it was to signify. Yet what has made it even more special is that throughout the ensuing years I’ve lost count of the people who told me my decision to break with All England Club protocol and head for those who really meant something to me struck an extremely poignant chord in their own parental relationships.
So, please excuse me a little self indulgence because I’d like to pay tribute to the person that gesture was designed to honour. This weekend in Belfast I’m playing a tournament on the BlackRock Tour of Champions for the first time since my father died, and it doesn’t come easy. Patrick Snr was one of the guiding forces in my tennis career, to my mind he was exactly the right kind of tennis parent and not at all one of the breed that has given my sport such a bad name over the years.
He wasn’t the only person I was trying to reach that sunny afternoon, there were plenty: Ian Barclay my coach, Anne-Britt, my girlfriend at the time and mother of my first two children, my sister Renee, my uncle Brian. But dad was paramount in my intentions.
I still remember him shouting to me as I got nearer and that was appropriate because the sound of his voice reverberated through my career. Finally I made it, I reached my summit and I did what I wished I’d done so many times previously. My family upbringing had never involved a lot of hugging; the Cashes weren’t really that kind of people. But the first thing I wanted to do was show how much I thought of my dad so I let all the emotion go as I wrapped my arms around him.
So many parents are intrinsically linked to their offspring’s tennis success. Andre Agassi’s father Mike was a driving force, so was Steffi Graf’s father Peter. There is Richard and Oracene Williams, Karoly Seles made tennis fun for Monica and Maria Sharapova is never far from her dad, Yuri. When it comes to Britain, we all remember the sight of Tony and Jane Henman barely moving a muscle throughout all those years with Tim, and now there is Judy Murray, who has been so influential with Andy and Jamie.
Some tennis parents go too far, their demands for success and inability to show compassion to their offspring in defeat is horrendous to behold. I’m not going to sour a tribute to my father by mentioning names but many will know who I am talking about. My dad was not like that; primarily he was a father and after that he was my manager and lawyer, but when it came to the way I played the game, he left that side of things to Barclay and me.
My parents were happily married, and my mother, Dorothy, still lives in Melbourne. Dad was a great supporter of family values, so important in an individual sport. He was one of nine children and always let me know I was part of a team. That meant so much to him because he was an exceptional Aussie Rules footballer who was Hawthorn’s leading goal-kicker in his debut season in 1951. That might not carry much kudos in Britain, but it counts big time in Melbourne.
Dad was a God-fearing Catholic and a conservative with a small “c” but he was also something of a rebel who didn’t suffer fools gladly and was prepared to battle against injustice. Doubtless that was a good thing when it came to practising law and that might have something to do with spawning tennis champions; the fathers of John McEnroe and Lendl were both lawyers.
He was rugged, a little gruff and not a man that bothered too much with style, but when he set his mind to do something, he got it done. Together with Barclay, and thanks to the help of some generous Australian business-men, he decided to do something after suffering intense frustration at the way things were going for young tennis players Down Under. They created a scheme called MATCH – Make a Tennis Champion Here. And that’s exactly what they did.
Emotions are obviously a little tearful right now and looking at that picture of the Wimbledon players’ box is too downright painful at the moment. There he is with that silly white cap he used to wear to footy matches back home and amid all the hubbub it’s been knocked to an even more ridiculous angle. I’ll miss my dad forever but I’m eternally grateful for everything he did for me.