Sydney: Australia has as much chance of producing a grand slam tennis champion in the next few years as its Socceroos do of winning the World Cup in July, former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash told Reuters on Tuesday.
Given that Australia`s best performance at soccer`s global showpiece was a place in the last 16 four years ago, the outspoken Cash clearly expects no end soon to the grand slam title drought stretching back to Lleyton Hewitt`s Wimbledon triumph of 2002.
On a trip home to help develop his country`s young talent, Cash reflected on Australia`s great expectations and the difficulties of producing champions like himself, Hewitt and Pat Rafter, not to mention grand slam titans Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Roy Emerson.
"I think we`re in a position where people in Australia are expecting a lot, mainly because of our great history in tennis," the former world number four told Reuters by telephone from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra.
"We were one of a dozen countries playing tennis back in the 50s and 60s, bit by bit now it`s become 50 or so countries are very, very competitive.”
"Tennis in Australia has always had champions. But it`s such a small minority of players compared to other nations that for us to win another grand slam would be the equivalent of us winning the World Cup in soccer this year.”
"I don`t think Australian people realise that, they just kind of think tennis is really easy."
The first priority must be to get as many youngsters playing the sport, Cash said, a task made harder by the absence of Australians at the top of the game -- the ageing Hewitt and women`s world number seven Samantha Stosur notwithstanding.
"We`ve got so many sports in Australia, we`re sports mad, and other sports are encouraging kids to come and play so tennis has lost a lot of ground in the recruitment of kids," he said.
"That`s been picked up now, better late than never, but it`s going to be a bit of a hard grind to get back the number of players we need to have picking up tennis rackets.”
"We did miss a good opportunity in the 80s and 90s when we had a handful of great players come through and make headlines in just about every grand slam."
Although based in London, Cash has answered his country`s call to help Australian teenagers take the step from junior tennis to the rigours of the professional circuit.
"Australia doesn`t have a great record of bringing the juniors into the seniors of late," he said.
"It`s so important to get things right these days, you can`t bring any weaknesses into the circuit, you just get chewed up and spat out. But hopefully we can fix these kids before they go on the circuit."
Cash, who will be 45 next week, won Wimbledon in 1987 with a serve-volley game he thinks can still be an effective Plan B for Australian players in the modern baseliner-dominated game.
"If we can get them to play a bit of attacking play, that will help," he said. "But I don`t think the die-hard serve-volleyer is going to be successful any more. You need to play from the back as well."
Back at the AIS, where he was a student in the early 1980s, Cash was delighted to see the elements of sports science he had to organise and pay for himself when he was on tour were now available to the youngsters.
"There`s so many skills to learn in tennis, it`s not just running up and down a track as fast as you can, you need all the experts to help and that`s the great thing about the AIS, they`re all here," he said.
So how many of the youngsters he has been working with does he think might make the grade?
"There`s a couple of them who`ve got a chance and although winning grand slams is one in a million, they have enough talent to be successful," he concluded.
"How far they go is anybody`s guess but out of the bunch of teenagers we`ve got here at the moment, I see quite a few of them being competitive in the next 10 years or so."