Serena has lost an edge: Cash

Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, is always entertaining. Yesterday, for instance, the great Australian couldn't remember where his trophy was. Don't worry, he eventually figured it out. The host of CNN's Open Court show was forthright and perceptive as he talked to Rohit Brijnath

Q On your climb up to the box in 1987 after winning Wimbledon, did you stand on the head of a priest?

A (Laughs). It's sort of true. It was a guy who was dressed as a priest. I couldn't get up to the box because there was an area there that was standing only. There was a guy right next to the commentators' box and he was dressed a priest. And he said, 'come on, put your foot on my shoulder, I'll help you up'. I thought that was pretty cool, I'm getting help from God to get up there.

Q Steffi or Serena, who is the greatest? Or somebody else?

A I don't think the greatest is possible to judge for generations. The greatest of all time is Margaret Court by a long, long way as far as tournaments are concerned. She won singles, doubles and mixed and she is probably the most successful all-round player.

Margaret was big and strong... She was the first superstar athlete that I know of as far as power is concerned... I saw her play quite a lot. I actually copied my sliced backhand from her.

(Her fitness trainer) told me the work that she did. He said she was the only one that could compete with all the men players that he trained, the John Newcombes, and Tony Roches, and the Rod Lavers. She was as strong, as fit as them. So imagine her with a modern racket.

Steffi was a great competitor and unbelievable athlete and Martina Navratilova as well. And Serena, of course. I think they're probably the obvious four. Can't separate them.

Q You and Boris Becker and that generation, you had a different relationship, you didn't give anything away. You think these Top Four guys are too nice to each other?

A Umm, I know what you're saying. It's good to have some rivalry where there's a bit of nasty... but we were all very friendly when we were in the locker room, because we had to live with each other, we all said hello. (But) I don't think I ever went out to dinner with Boris or Ivan Lendl. I did with McEnroe.

These guys today are very competitive. On the outside they're very nice and very friendly. But underneath I don't really know if they really like each other that much. I know for sure Federer and Djokovic have a problem. And then Federer wants to be the king and Nadal has got a much better winning record over him, so he doesn't like that. These guys are very big competitors. It's not as friendly as it seems. But they're respectful, which is nice.

Q If you met Nick Kyrgios what would you say to him?

A I don't think it would matter what I said to him, I don't think he would listen. I think that is the thing about Nick. He doesn't really want help. He doesn't want anybody's opinion...

If I could sit down with him for a while I would probably ask him, what leads up to his bad moments. Bad moments or meltdowns, we all have them. There's a reason we have them. It's always stress. So how can you release that stress or relieve that stress? Sometimes it's impossible. You have an argument with your girlfriend or somebody in the family is ill. Then that's understandable. But you have to work out how you can release the stress before you get on the tennis court.

Q Do women players do some things better than men's players?

A I think many of them hold their nerve better. Because they don't have the big serve, not all of them... so they have to fight their way from the back of the court and that (leads to) some very nervous situations and the best players have the ability to handle that. And certainly (they do that) as good as the men.

Q Women's tennis is thinking of shorter matches with super tie-breakers instead of third sets and no ad scoring. You like it?

A No... and yes. Mainly no because I think that the scoring system is perfect. The best, most exciting tennis is matches that go backwards and forwards. Sure it goes long but that's what tennis is, a battle to be able to manage the pressure.

There are two issues. One, it would be great to have one hour of good tennis. It would make it easier for the lesser player to beat the top player. Serena, for instance, sometimes she starts slowly, she would be out of a lot of tournaments. So the top seed has more chance of getting beaten. Does TV want that? No. Do they want shorter matches? Yes. Well, you can't have both.

Q Has Serena lost an edge?

A She has lost a mental edge, there's no doubt. People think they can beat her. Last year and a half she's lost matches in three sets. I believe the reason for that is she doesn't play enough matches. If you don't play a lot of matches under pressure, you're not tough under pressure. I always say the recipe to being in good form is the same recipe as making a good cup of tea. If you're in the hot water long, you become strong.

Q What does Lendl do for Murray that no one else can?

A Get into his head, make him calm, make him relaxed. Make him realise that getting upset is only going to be detrimental.

Q Two things you'd like to do to improve tennis.

A Get rid of the let. Why it hasn't gone, I don't understand. I would put a limitation on string technology... We're getting too much spin, too much power (and it's) impossible to win the volley. It's ruined the net play and the touch play.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Serena has lost an edge: Cash'. Print Edition | Subscribe