The Start of a New Era?

The following article appeared in Tennis Week. I highlighted the parts which I thought was important:

Federer Turns To Cahill

By Richard Pagliaro

Thursday, March 05, 2009

In guiding both Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to the World No. 1 ranking, Darren Cahill established a reputation as coach who can command the complexities of a tennis court as completely as an architect analyzes a blue print. Now Cahill will apply his analytical skills to 13-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.

The second-ranked Swiss has been training with Cahill in Dubai on a trial basis and the pair are working out an arrangement that will see Cahill serve as Federer’s coach in some capacity, Federer’s IMG agent Tony Godsick said.

Cahill most recently served as coach of the Australian Davis Cup team under captain John Fitzgerald and when Tennis Australia announced Cahill was departing that post last month, connecting the dots to Federer became clear.

Federer, who has worked with Australian Tony Roche and Sweden’s Peter Lundgren in the past, often consults long-time girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec, a former WTA Tour pro, on certain opponents, but has said he is receptive to hearing a new voice with different ideas. Federer split with Roche, his last full-time coach, in May of 2007.

The 27-year-old Federer had been working with Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi on a part-time basis. Federer pulled out of last week’s Dubai tournament and this weekend’s Davis Cup tie against the United States citing a back injury. During his break from the ATP Tour, he has trained with Cahill, who partnered with Agassi’s best friend and former trainer, Gil Reyes, in preparing Fernando Verdasco for the Australian Open. Verdasco reached the semifinals of the Melbourne major and engaged World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in an enthralling five-set match that was one of the highest-quality Australian Open matches in recent years.

Cahill’s ability to evolve as a coach to make the changing trends in tennis has been one of his best assets. He told Tennis Week he still considers himself a student of the sport.

“I think you’re always learning and it’s a constant process of trying to understand the game from all different perspectives because the game itself is always changing,” Cahill told Tennis Week. “The day you sit back and think you know it all is the day you sit out of the game. Look at the past five, six, seven years and the game has changed again and again. Players are using different strings now, so they can use more spin to keep the ball in the court and that of course changes the way the game is played. The game keeps changing and if you don’t keep changing as a coach then you don’t keep up with the game.”

Speculation has swirled for years that Federer has been interested in working with Cahill — a close friend of his late coach Peter Carter and the man who made history in coaching the youngest year-end number one (Hewitt) and the oldest number one (Agassi) — though the five-time Wimbledon winner said during the US Open last September that his extensive travel schedule may be too arduous for the coaching candidates he’s considered.

Cahill, who splits his time between Vegas and his native Australia, told Tennis Week in past interviews he was enjoying his work as an analyst for ESPN and did not want to spend too much time away from home and his family, Cahill and his wife have a young son. However, in an interview with Tennis Week during the Oz Open in January, Cahill hinted he was ready to return to coaching.

“I don’t think you can completely remove it from your blood and I thoroughly enjoyed it so I think at some stage I’d probably get back into coaching again,” Cahill told Tennis Week. “I am absolutely delighted to come back to ESPN and I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here. It’s a different type of pressure and it’s very challenging and enjoyable. I think the first four or five days we’ve had so much going and so many stories to follow and ESPN has been incredibly good in trying to get to everything and getting to the big matches and not just sitting one one particular match. We’ve been trying to get to as much as we possibly can. It can be challenging, but it’s very rewarding as well.”

So what impact will Cahill have on Federer’s game? Cahill himself was an attacking player in the Aussie tradition of serve and volley players stretching back to Lew Hoad, Fred Stolle and John Newcombe and continuing through Pat Cash and Patrick Rafter. In his commentary, Cahill has made it clear he believes Federer should use his volley and attacking game more frequently, particularly against his top rivals — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — on faster surfaces.

Yet Cahill is also known for assessing his players’ strengths and making the most of their skills. In his work with both Agassi and Hewitt, Cahill stressed preparation, precise footwork and point construction to break opponents down. Asked to express his coaching philosophy, Cahill told Tennis Week he believes a good coach has to be part instructor, part technician, part tactician, part analyst, part listener, part confidant and part psychologist.

“You need the ability to sit back and listen to your player,” Cahill told Tennis Week. “You need to be able to look through your player’s eyes and try to see what they see and understand how they might match up with their opponent, what is their learning and improvement curve and how can you best help them learn and improve. You’ve got to take some time to understand the player you’re working with and understand when imparting your advice that the coach is not always right and player is not always right. So I think you have to keep an open mind and you have to try to understand your player and how your player sees things.”

In this post I would like to analyze Cahill as a coach and what he can mean for Roger’s game now that we know he is Roger’s coach. First of all it’s clear that he has the experience having taken two players to the number one ranking. Can he get Roger back to the number one spot? A lot would depend on the results they get together this year. With Rafa having won the Australian Open already and being the undisputed favorite for the French Open one feels it’s going to be an uphill struggle for Roger to reclaim the number one spot. But if Roger can reclaim his Wimbledon crown and Rafa has injury problems it’s not impossible. As always I feel the key will be Wimbledon. If Roger wins the title for the sixth time there with a new coach things will look up for him again.

And if he then goes on to win the US Open for the sixth straight time he would definitely be in with a chance to reclaim the number one spot. This would be the best possible scenario for Roger though and with guys like Murray, Djokovic and other around this will not be easy. If Roger only wins back his Wimbledon crown that would make 2009 a satisfying season for me already. Anything else would be a bonus. And if he wins the French Open that would be just an amazing season! But I’m not betting on it, not as long as Rafa is healthy. Roger’s main focus would be Wimbledon though as we have already seen him cutting down on his clay court season. It’s just not worth it for him to put as much effort into the clay court season at this point having lost to Rafa so many times on the surface.

All his energy would be going into winning Wimbledon again and Cahill would be able to help him with that I’m sure. Cahill is a master at analyzing opponents and I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to help Roger solve the Rafa puzzle. He just might be the guy that can break down that stubbornness of Roger when it comes to playing Rafa. There is two levels I feel where Cahill will play a role. The first one will be the psychological level as I have just mentioned, he will have to gain Roger’s trust. One thing about Roger is that he has become very self reliant in a way. He has ruled the tennis world for years mostly relying on his own devices. He has had the odd coach and Mirka to rely on but he hasn’t had a full time coach for the larger part of his career.

So in many ways he will be set in his ways and with the Rafa situation he might be even harder to reach. This is where Cahill can play such an important role because he is the one guy that Roger would let in, and the fact that Cahill was a close friend of Roger’s childhood mentor Peter Carter would have a lot to do with that. I can’t help but feel like the Federer/Cahill partnership has a sense of destiny to it. The other level where Cahill will mean a lot to Roger is the tactical level when dealing with difficult opponents like Rafa, Djokovic and Murray. Already in his commentating for ESPN he has made it clear what Roger should do and I was really happy to hear what he said. For too long Roger havn’t utilized a very important aspect of his game which is the volley.

It is like he is stubborn and too one dimensional these days, like he is saying to the young challengers “I have won 13 grand slams, I don’t have to change anything in my game to beat you.” As good as Roger is this attitude will not suffice anymore. What Roger needs is a new psychological makeover. That may sound extreme but it’s true nonetheless, Roger has become too stagnant the last year or so. The huge disappointment in Australia might just have been the turning point for Roger. Your biggest failures holds the biggest opportunity for growth. I truly believe in this concept and have seen it many times in my own life. When you are completely broken down and down in the dumps you have the unique opportunity to reinvent yourself.

You have nothing to lose and therefor you have a certain freedom. This is exactly what has been happening with Roger now. After last year’s Wimbledon he could have already gotten Cahill but the time would not have been right and he was still to proud. But after the loss down under you just had the feeling that he was completely broken down and had nothing left to lose. This just let his defences down enough so that someone like Cahill could come along and give Roger a life line. It’s all perception in the end. This partnership could be a new beginning for Roger. The loss down under may have been the end of and era, but why not start a new one? It’s not too late, there is much for Roger left to achieve in the game.

Maybe this era won’t be as dominant as the previous one, but it could be one where Roger breaks all the records and puts all doubt that he is the greatest of all time to rest.

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  1. Sounds like a good match up. It’s funny but I thought he played the best he has for a while at Melbourne only coming unstuck against Nadal. I think he has a block against Rafa – not just a mental one – there’s only a certain amount of pummelling a single handed backhand can take from a forehand as big as Rafas!

    I’m not sure Cahill’s technical input will be that important – but he should help Roger get refocused…


    ruanz3 Reply:

    Hi Topspin thanks for the comment. Yes i totally agree i thought he looked great in Melbourne except for the Berdych match and to a lesser extent Rafa. So I dont think his level have dropped much really, he just needs to get it together mentally and Cahill could help him with that. Im really looking forward to see what the future holds.


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