Former pro, Super Coach and ESPN 2 commentator Darren Cahill spoke with reporters via conference call on Tuesday (Darren was calling in from Wednesday, Down Under.) Much of the conversation revolved around the WTA (click here for more on that) but he still had plenty to say about Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the rest of the ATP pack. Here are some excerpts from the call:
I asked him to reflect on his short-term gig coaching Roger Federer after last year’s Australian Open – and how he sees things going for the World No. 1 in the future.
CAHILL: “Spending the 10 days with him (in Dubai last March) was certainly a great experience for me – to jump inside the mind of probably the best tennis player who ever lived was a learning experience. I left there with no doubt that he was still a force to be reckoned with. The guy has an incredible tennis mind. He’s a student of the game. He loves to talk about tennis and watch tennis 24 hours a day. He certainly had his head well around what needed to be done for him to get himself back into the position he’s in now. He was on the right track before I went there, he was still on the right track when I left. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s still the number one guy – the number one player in the world – and he’s in the position to win many, many more titles.”
And what will become of the Federer vs. Nadal rivalry?
CAHILL: “We have a lot to look forward to in men’s tennis. No question we have some great Federer and Nadal rivalries coming up. There are other players in the mix, but until they constantly put themselves into semis and finals of major events, those two are still the guys.”
So who - Roger or Rafa – will end the year with the better ranking?
CAHILL: “I’d definitely go with Roger on that one. Going into every Slam, he’s the favorite in three of them and second favorite at the French Open. . .He’s a threat on every surface. Rafa struggles on certain surfaces and is trying to adapt his game to be more aggressive but that’s a work in progress. I think Roger is going to finish on top in that battle.”
But Darren revealed later that Andy Murray is his pick for the Australian Open title.
CAHILL: “I think this year you’ll really see Andy Murray come out of the blocks and assert himself. The Australian Open is a great place for him to start. The surface is perfect for him. Physically he likes the heat. He trains in Miami leading into the AO, so he’ll be well used to the sun. I think we’ll see a very strong performance from Andy Murray – he’s probably my pick to win the event. It will take a lot to stop him. I expect that 2010 will be the year he wins his first major title.”
A reporter from the Guardian asked if Andy Murray might pop by Las Vegas to ask Darren Cahill for some advice, now that the adidas Player Development Center is open to him.
CAHILL: “Now that he is with adidas he is more than welcome to sit down and have a chat with me. But he’s got a great team around him – including Alex Corretja – so he’s in great hands.”
Gael Monfils is Cahill’s outside pick for the title, but with some put up or shut up reservations.
CAHILL: “I think the window is closing a bit for Gael Monfils. His game and his athleticism and the way he throws himself around the court and the injuries he’s sustained over the past years – he has to step it up this year. The guy is an amazing talent and an amazing athlete. He can do whatever he wants on the tennis court. I’m waiting for him to do something really special in a Grand Slam event. If he pulls it all together for these next two weeks, boy, is that going to be some scintillating tennis.”
Darren had some kind words for Andy Roddick, saying that “his best is good enough to win a major title.”
CAHILL: “There’s nobody more professional than Andy (Roddick). He gets the most out of his game. . .He’s not blessed with Federer-like grace or talent. He’s not blessed with the physicality of Nadal. But he’s got a strong mind. He keeps competing. He’s the hardest worker out there and has a huge heart and now he’s putting himself back into the position to win these events.”
Darren also pegged Del Potro as a legitimate threat in Melbourne and anywhere (except for maybe Wimbledon) in the coming years. What’s interesting to me is that neither Cahill nor Pam Shriver*, who was also on the call, mentioned Novak Djokovic or Nikolay Davydenko, even in passing. (They weren’t asked directly about them, either.) This, alone, convinces me that these two guys are the true dark horses Down Under. Who are yours?
*Pam Shriver’s outside pick is Marin Cilic.