Tennis great Pat Cash recalls match against young Nadal
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash perhaps had the leg on the rest of the tennis community when it came to Rafael Nadal, as the retired Australian had a unique encounter with the Spaniard during his youth.
The former World No.4 was scheduled to face Boris Becker in an exhibition match in Mallorca. However, the German was unable to compete and so Nadal, then junior world champion, was selected to replace him.
Although Nadal was just 14-years at the time, Cash recalls him playing with the same determination that is evident in his game today.
“Obviously, he didn’t hit the ball as hard then, but he played with the same intensity, topspin. I was kind of shocked by it all," Cash recalled. "As a young kid his age, it wasn’t as if it was something I couldn’t handle but, the crowd was quite amused when he won the first set against me. I was sort of being nice to him… ‘Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy because this kid is really good. He’ll beat me if he can'."
The Australian increased his intensity and won the second set against Nadal, although the crowd was fairly split between both competitors.
“He won the first set and the crowd thought it was hilarious," Cash stated. "They were roaring for us. So we were on the court together, and I started chip-charging, serve and volley, that sort of stuff, and won the second set pretty comfortably, 6-2 I think.”
The match went to a 10-point tiebreaker, with Cash surprised he was being pushed this far by an inexperienced teenager.
“99 percent of the kids would have choked and fallen apart. He was just tearing it up everywhere, all over the court, and hit some unbelievable winners. At the time, I was 38 and was still hitting the ball pretty well,” explained Cash.
“I lost that match, I don’t remember what the score was, but it was close." confessed the Australian. "He didn’t get nervous or anything. Obviously, he didn’t have anything to lose. But I came into the locker room after, the guys sort of looked at me, just to look at my reaction. And my reaction was losing to a 14-year-old and I just sort of looked at them and said, ‘Wow, this kid is something else!’”
Nadal is currently competing at the season-ending ATP Finals, an event that continues to elude him in his illustrious career. He will face Daniil Medvedev for a spot in the final, where he hopes to finally break his losing streak.