Hi all. I had the opportunity today to ask coach and ESPN commentator Darren Cahill about his thoughts on the Paul Annacone/Roger Federer realationship. I think it’s pretty obvious from the length and depth of his response, that Cahill is a big fan of his coaching colleague.
Here’s Cahill, unedited (so it’s a little stream of conscious-y):
“I think Paul brings a very fresh perspective to Roger Federer’s game. A deliberate game plan.
Back when I was working with Andre in 2002 he was already 32 years of age and pretty much accomplished everything. He’d won 7 slams. You have to give them a reason to step onto the court every day and give them inspiration. I think that’s what Paul does. Paul is a very, very good man. He knows the game extremely well. He’s been through this era with Pete Sampras in the sense that Roger’s now in the back half of his career. He still might be playing for another 5 or 6 years if he wishes because he keeps that body extremely healthy with that great training regimen that he does.
But you have to have inspiration every time you step onto the court - not just to practice but also to play. And I think that’s what Paul brings to the table. He’s very deliberate in terms of what Roger needs to do. We’ve already seen that over the past 6 months he’s playing much closer to the baseline. He’s taking most of forehands inside the baseline which gives him that extra step to get closer to the net and control that net position.
He’s also worked out that he doesn’t have to serve the ball at 240 km/hour to be effective. If he can hit his spots at around 125 miles/hour he is going to be extremely effective. I think against a couple players, like Murray and Nadal, previously he felt that too many of his serves were coming back. He was searching for that extra 5 or 6 miles an hour and was losing rhythm on his serve. Now he’s gone back to sliding that serve around, using the angles and because he’s playing closer to the baseline, its making it more effective and aggressive.
I think he’s walking on the court now with no confusion about what he needs to do. He’s got a very deliberate, aggressive game plan and he’s executing that every time he steps onto the court.”
That said, Cahill’s calling Rafael Nadal the “clear favorite” to win the Australian Open and capture the Rafa Slam. Here’s why:
“I think for the men that Nadal goes into the event as a clear favorite. You can forget about all the events leading up to this. Every question Nadal has needed to answer he’s answered over the past couple of years. The fact that he’s won the last three majors makes him a clear favorite for the Australian Open. He likes the surface. He likes the ball. The conditions are sort of medium paced and the ball is fluffing up pretty heavily after the first 5 or 10 minutes but he can still put some spin on the ball.
Rafa proved he can win this event a couple years ago. He can nurse his way into the draw if he’s not feeling 100% with the virus. (Rafa suffered from a fever last week in Doha.) He doesn’t really run into any of the real danger men until the fourth round when he might play John Isner or Marin Cilic. He’s in a good section of the draw and I think he’s going to be extremely excited about coming here and chasing it (the Rafa Slam.)
The great thing about him is he isn’t scared of any hurdles put in front of him. The fact that he won the US Open, I think he’s riding an enormous wave and I think he goes into the event as the strong favorite in the men’s draw. Hopefully for the tournament’s sake we’re looking at a Federer -Nadal final.”
Interesting aside: Pam Shriver was also on the ESPN-sponsored conference call and was a bit more concerned about Rafa’s illness, calling it a “pretty serious virus” and saying that “it’s taking longer than a 24 year old might want it to take.” “If he’s 100% healthy he’s the co favorite with Federer.” Shriver said. “Otherwise I think Federer.”
Cahill thinks Novak Djokovic is the most likely player to break the Nadal-Federer stranglehold on Major titles: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes all the way,” he said. He also applauds Andy Murray for going it alone for a while (the Scot isn’t bringing coach Álex Corretja to Australia) saying: “It’s not a bad thing to problem solve for yourself. It’s part of the growing up process and I think Andy’s taking more responsibility for his career.” Kind of a surprising take, coming from a coach! That said, Cahill doesn’t think Murray is going to win his first Major Down Under this year.
Neither Shriver nor Cahill could shed much light on the women’s draw, as it’s positively baffling with non-Major winners Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva holding the top two seeds . Both Shriver and Cahill think Kim Clijsters is a shoe-in for the title Down Under, despite the fact that she just lost the Sydney final to Li Na.
A reporter asked Australian Cahill about the flooding disaster that’s ravaging Queensland.
“I’m 45 years of age and I’ve never seen a tragedy in Australia like this in my time. It’s close to the bone for us. Melbourne is a couple hours flight from Brisbane where all of this is happening. Only a week and a half ago we were at the Brisbane International tournament. We played at the tennis center which is now about 10 feet under water. We’re seeing the tragedy unfold on our television screens and we’re all quite stunned.
I was part of the event at the World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide last week which gave away tickets to help raise money (the tournament donated ticket revenues.) We’re also doing the Shirt off Their Back, where all the top players after they come off the court take their shirt of their back and sign it. We’re throwing these up on the Tennis Australia website to raaise money for flood relief. John McEnroe gave ten-thousand dollars out of his own pocket. Lance Armstrong gave fifty- thousand out of his own pocket to help flood victims.
In my time anyway, we’ve never seen anything like this. It’s stunning to the point that it’s frightening.“
ESPN will be showing an interview with Queensland native Rod Laver during its broadcast, which will touch on the flooding disaster. Tennis Channel will be broadcasting the Rally for Relief exhibition – shown here in the States on Saturday night 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.