Australian tennis legend Pat Cash was an unlikely spectator at last weekend’s SailGP stop in Dubai, with the 1987 Wimbledon champion witnessing countryman Tom Slingsby and his crew pull off a victory in remarkable circumstances.
Speaking to Wide World of Sports, Cash explained that he was in the Middle East for a separate commitment, launching a Legends Tour version of the Laver Cup.
Purely by chance, the Australian Sail GP team was made aware that Cash was in town and invited him down to meet them, trade training secrets, and give him some insight into how the fastest sailing boats in the world are powered.
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Cash was dazzled, particularly after learning the technology being used by the nine crews was right on the cutting edge.
“It’s really funny, a mate of mine here, he’s into this, he follows the SailGP, and I was on the phone to him and he said ‘look, the only manual thing they do is one piece of rope, that’s the old school sailing, everything else is technology’, I said ‘what?’ and he said ‘yeah, this one guy holds a bit of rope, that’s about it’, everything else is this fine technology, doing this and adjusting this, and it’s a whole different ball game,” Cash said.
“I kind of like that. You have to keep ahead of it and that’s what I do, I’m a bit of a fanatic about trying to stay ahead of it and understanding the latest technology, that’s what I love doing, it’s a bit of a passion of mine.”
Cash got his first insight into sailing via one of his best mates who lives in Bermuda, with the tennis champion visiting the Caribbean island while America’s Cup contender Oracle was in training there.
During that trip he met Australian sailor Kinley Fowler, who was part of Team Oracle and has also been a mainstay for Australia since SailGP’s inception.
Fowler is a grinder for Slingsby’s Team Australia crew, doing the physical grunt work that has helped them to two series championships and the season three series lead.
Cash said he admired the training required to be one of sailing’s elite and said there were similarities between how those athletes and the world’s best tennis players prepare themselves, both physically and mentally.
“Certainly seeing how hard Kinley’s worked and you see how fit the guys are… And yeah, it’s the attention to focus and dealing with pressure, tennis players might be playing under pressure for three hours or four hours or whatever, but we’ re not getting a boat coming straight at us, the worse we can have is a tennis ball,” Cash said.
“I realized how hard these guys work and how quick and agile they’ve got to be and how strong they have to be, so I was really impressed by it and of course this is the week to week or month to month version of the America’s Cup isn’t it.
“I’m a big fan of their ability as athletes, that’s the thing that comes across, their focus and their attention to detail. It’s really impressive I’ve gotta say.
“And the fine tuning, all the little things, I didn’t realize how much they do, the trimming, I don’t even know what half the things are called, going up and down. The grinding, that’s the physical stuff, I can understand that.”
While speaking to the Australian team, Cash also unearthed Slingsby’s background as an elite junior tennis player.
If not for a change in his sporting direction as a teenager, the Olympic gold medallist may have been on the ATP Tour over the last two decades, rather than carving out a legendary sailing legacy.
“He told me some of the tournaments he played and the things he was doing, and I was like ‘sheesh, he must have been able to play’,” Cash said.
“He said he hadn’t played forever, but he said he took that discipline when he gave up the tennis and got in to sailing, he took the same discipline of getting up and doing two sessions a day and all that sorts of stuff, into his sailing. So it was really cool meeting him and just getting a feel for it.”
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