Smoke and Mirrors: The Roger Federer-Darren Cahill-Andre Agassi Merry-Go-Round

Marianne BevisSenior Writer IMarch 5, 2009

The rumors have been rife ever since, a few weeks back, it was announced that Darren Cahill had retired as Assistant Coach to the Australian Davis Cup Team. Was this the signal that he’d had the invitation no-one could refuse?

Cahill had been a friend of Roger Federer’s mentor, Peter Carter—who died suddenly just as the Swiss player’s career was breaking through. It could be a fascinating match-up.

Federer has struggled to find anyone who could tick all the Carter boxes, but most particularly the relationship one. He values above all else, it seems, people he can relate to, trust, and like.

He keeps around him the same tried and tested team that he’s had for years. When the relationship is wrong, a line is drawn: the Roche break-up in 2007 was a case in point.

The Federer/Cahill "relationship" dates back to that Roche era in 2004, when Cahill was in the frame as Peter Lundgren’s replacement. But just as the story appears to be coming full circle, counter-rumours confound the gossip-mongers.

First we hear that Cahill has never wanted to coach Federer since that less-than-happy parting of the ways with fellow Australian Roche.

Then Cahill is quoted as wanting to spend more time with his family in California. He’s taken on coaching duties with Verdasco there—all seems settled.

Adding weight to this view is Renee Stauffer, Federer’s biographer, in the Swiss media. He says he would be surprised by such a link-up, and that Federer wouldn’t consider working with Cahill.

Now, out of the blue—from none other than Stauffer—we hear that Federer is currently training in Dubai with Cahill.

And Federer has confirmed, via manager Tony Godsick, that he and Cahill are indeed trying each other out. “There’s no decision yet on whether they will continue. Severin Lüthi will keep on working with Roger, as last year, when Roger hired Jose Higueras.”

On which subject, let’s not forget that Higueras remained "on trial" from Estoril until his migration to the U.S. to coach its elite players.

At this point, the spectre of Agassi appears in the mirror. It was said at the time of Roche’s recruitment to the Federer camp that the first choice had been Cahill. However, Cahill had already committed to Agassi, and these two went on to have a long and fruitful relationship.

Wind forward to this week, and we have the announcement that Agassi is making a comeback via World Team Tennis this summer. Together with his long-term conditioning coach, Gil Reyes, Agassi is preparing for his return with—you guessed it—Darren Cahill. They are known to be friends and are, in tennis miles, neighbours.

All of this raises many questions. Federer continues to train in Dubai with old friend and conditioning expert Pierre Paganini, and will be heading to the States shortly for the big tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. Will Cahill join him?

Federer is reported as saying that the chance to work with Cahill came up in recent weeks “and, in an effort always to improve, Roger did not want this chance to pass him by.”

But can he put himself into a new pair of hands? And is Cahill tough enough, or velvet-gloved enough, to handle such a self-contained athlete? After all, many of Federer’s successes have been achieved solo.

Federer is known to admire the trajectory of Agassi’s career: he regained the No.1 ranking during his four years with Cahill. And Federer wants to take another stride in his own career.

So much of this comes right back to friends and family.

Cahill and Agassi have deep roots with their families in north America. Federer trains in Dubai, when not on tour, with friends and family close at hand. They would all be moving out of their comfort zones. Both sides have difficult decisions to make, big challenges to consider.

But if Cahill does win Federer over, and can apply a few drops of oil to the near-perfect Federer machine, they’d better send up some smoke signals to the opposition.