WIMBLEDON: A CASH COURSE IN SPECTACULAR COMEBACKS

WIMBLEDON, England — Aw, who needs an appendix anyhow? Not Pat Cash. Not when he’s on Centre Court at Wimbledon, with Princess Di watching from the Royal Box, and a thousand teenage girls screaming from the stands, and the No. 2 player in the world, Mats Wilander, wilting across the net, going down, down and finally out.

Cashed out, so to speak.

So what if Cash was ranked No. 413 in the world coming in here? So what if he was about to turn down his wild card invitation — until an Aussie buddy said, “Ah, why not have a go, mate?”

So what if just one month ago, he was under a surgeon’s knife, surrendering his appendix?

Hey. You’ve heard of quick recoveries, right?

If not, you’re hearing of one now. Maybe the quickest on record. Whatever that London doctor did to the insides of Pat Cash — who, at 21, was quickly becoming a candidate for the “Where Are They Now?” file — well, there are a few hundred players looking for his waiting room this morning.

All Cash did Monday was pull off the biggest upset of this Wimbledon tournament — which to this point has been more upsets than, uh, well, whatever the opposite of upsets is.

From brat to teen idol Against Wilander (“I’m No. 2, I Don’t Try Hard Enough”), Cash advanced to the quarterfinals by being everywhere — lunging at the net, sprinting to return a corner lob, backhanding volleys with belly-flop dives.

You half expected the Royal Box to hold up scores for every gymnastic tumble
— 9, 10, 9. Cash hit the grass more than a dorm full of Berkeley students.

He made a spin-around volley to break Wilander’s service. He served a match-ending ace that raised a puff of white chalk dust as it skipped off into history.

He won in four sets, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.

A comeback story? Yeah — from the dead. True, Pat Cash was once, briefly, a top-ranked player. But in the last year he has barely touched a racket — thanks to a back injury and his untimely appendicitis attack. His name disappeared from the Australian newspapers. He fell hundreds of digits in the rankings.

After the emergency appendectomy, which came five days after the birth of his first child (this story gets weirder and weirder, doesn’t it?), Cash figured Wimbledon was out. Yet a few days later he was back practicing.

“But if you’d had a crystal ball and said I was going to beat Mats Wilander in the round of 16,” he admitted, “I wouldn’t have believed you. I’d have thrown it in your face.”

Which wouldn’t have been big news. Those who remember Cash might also recall his reputation as one of tennis’s biggest brats. Arguments were his calling card. In the 1984 U.S. Open, at 19, he flung his racket into the crowd after losing to Ivan Lendl in the semifinals. It may have been the only time Americans preferred a Czech to Cash.

Well, he doesn’t throw rackets anymore. He throws sweaty headbands — in the great tradition of Englebert Humperdinck — to screaming teenagers who have adopted him as the latest heartthrob in a sport full of heartthrobs. Thanks to his Mel Gibson looks, his Duran Duran haircut and his single earring, Cash is perceived here as one part tennis ace, one part rock star. You half expect him to plug in his racket and start belting out a song.

Maybe “Jumping Pat Cash (is a gas, gas, gas.)” Anything could be next We’ll see. For now, it’s his tennis that’s rocking this venerable old house. Cash, who has won four straight matches, claims he’s doing well because “I know how to play on grass.” He feels no pressure —
“this whole thing is a surprise, really,” he said. And if he gets past France’s Henri LeConte on Wednesday, even Princess Di might scramble for his next headband.

“It’s not unusual for me to play Centre Court Wimbledon,” he reminded people. “It’s just a matter of winning the big points at the big time.”

For that you need heart, brains and guts. An appendix is beside the point.

Cash is now within two matches of the final. He has jumped to No. 103 — the greatest single leap in tennis ranking history. If he somehow makes it through to win here — can you imagine? He’ll release an album. He’ll do Time and Newsweek. He’ll be on “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous.”

And what about the good doctor — who had no idea his work would be so acclaimed when he opened Cash’s belly last month?

“Well,” said Cash, with a laugh, “I might send him a ticket.”

That’s OK. He might send you a new bill.

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