Darren Cahill Tennis instructor image by Getty Images

During his career, he coached radically different number ones – Lleyton Hewitt, the youngest season-ending numero uno, and Andre Agassi, the oldest man to hold down the top spot. 

Darren Cahill’s the man who said no to coaching Roger Federer; the tennis equivalent of passing on the Beatles. Few have  succeeded across the game like the incisive, down-to-Earth and ultra-professional Cahill – aka Killer – who ranked as high as 22 in his playing days, and beat Boris Becker to reach the 1988 US Open semi-finals. When injury curtailed his career, he went on to coach radically different number ones – Lleyton Hewitt, the youngest season-ending numero uno, and Andre Agassi, the oldest man to hold down the top spot.

With the end of Agassi’s fabled career in late 2006, the South Australian joined US sports broadcaster ESPN as a rare on-camera Aussie, and quickly rose to elite-caller status, praised for his literacy – a word not liberally applied to the athlete-turned-commentator – as well as his “expert, thoughtful and almost invariably brilliant analysis”. And that’s coming from an American columnist. The Las Vegas-based Cahill, 45, knocked back both Federer and Andy Murray to stay in the ESPN booth and  continue  as  consultant coach with Adidas, working with a variety of players in tandem with Agassi’s long-time, legendary trainer, Gil Reyes.

You said no to Roger Federer and yes to Adidas. It must be a heck of a gig ...

The Roger thing was a little more complicated than a simple no; Rog is a friend and we go a long way back. We never made it to the point of any job being offered, but I spent some time with him in Dubai (in March 2009) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Any full-time coaching job demands that you commit to a lot of weeks on the road and I just couldn’t get myself over that hurdle again. Roger was typical Rog, though, all class and very understanding. I was already very involved with the Adidas role and it came with a few upsides. It’s a great company offering a stable job, most of my coaching work is done in Las Vegas and, most importantly, I could continue working side by side with Gil Reyes.

You’ve been coach to two No.1s in Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi. Is there a limit to the emotional energy a coach has to expend on No.1s?

The coaching job is the same no matter what level you do it at. You put your head down and work as hard as you can, ask a lot of questions and continue to learn. But the pressure at the top can certainly take its toll. You can put everything into the “learning process basket” when your player is on the way up. Learn from the losses and enjoy the wins, but everything is about the big picture. The problem with me starting with a 31-year-old Andre was that he was already the star of the big picture and there was no room for bad results. Andre quite often said that he never felt the balance was right for him in tennis. The wins never felt as good as he imagined them to be, and the losses hurt like hell. Far worse than he expected. Working with him was certainly a great challenge and a good coaching job will push you through any low moments.

Probably no other tennis champion has transformed themselves and their reputation more dramatically than Andre. How emotional was his last stand at the 2006 US Open?

Yeah, more than you can really explain in a few lines. Those final weeks were emotional for everyone involved, but he handled it in the manner we’ve come to expect, and that was to wear his heart on his sleeve and hold his head up high. His eyes have always been a dead giveaway. You could see how he was feeling the morning of his matches just by looking into his eyes. The eyes would project confidence, resolve, nervousness, fear and confusion, just to name a few. He could shoot us a look mid-match and we knew exactly what he was feeling, and probably the outcome of the match. That night against Baghdatis (Agassi’s last victory) he emptied the bucket of every emotion imaginable. The New York crowd is unmatched when it comes to creating a night to remember and those memories will be with us forever.

You’re still based in Las Vegas with your family and you still work with Andre’s surrogate father, Gil Reyes. Clearly your five years with Andre had a profound effect on you.

Our families are still very close. The boys, Benjamin and (Agassi’s son) Jaden, have been playing in the same baseball team, called Vegas Venom, for the last four years. The girls, Tahlia and (Agassi’s daughter) Jaz, hang out and play whenever possible. I’m still involved with Andre’s charitable foundation, and he and Stef (Agassi’s wife, Steffi Graf) jump on the court with the Adidas players whenever possible.