October 3, 2022

WIMBLEDON – As in many sports, tennis has its share of renowned coaches. Unlike other sports, tennis does not always allow them to train.

Indeed, at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic cannot receive any kind of instructions from Goran Ivanisevic on center court during Friday’s men’s semi-finals. No other players and coaches were supposed to communicate during matches, be it Simona Halep with Patrick Mouratoglou, Andy Murray with Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal with Carlos Moya or anyone else in women’s or men’s singles.

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While the women’s WTA tour has tried various forms of in-match coaching over the past decade-plus – allowing and broadcasting face-to-face conversations during changes, for example – the men’s ATP tour has stayed away during of its main tournaments. other than a brief trial in the late 1990s (there were trials involving chatting via headsets at an end-of-season event for young players).

And coaching during Grand Slam matches has been banned. So far.

Once play at the All England Club ends on Sunday, the ATP will follow the WTA’s lead and open a trial over the remainder of this year to allow limited interaction between people on the pitch and their employees in the stands. This means that coaches will be able to offer their assistance to women and men at the last major tournament of 2022, the US Open, which begins on August 29 in New York.

“It’s exciting for the coaches because now all of a sudden the stuff and the strategy that you talk about before games, you can talk about it during games. You can change things. If things don’t go well, you can have a chance to look at plan B or C,” said Brad Gilbert, a former player who reached No. 4 in the rankings and a coach for Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and others.

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“Any innovation is good,” Gilbert added, at Wimbledon for ESPN. “And before you say something is not good, you have to see it and see how it goes.”

The announcement by the ATP of the arrival of coaching has opened a debate in sport. There are those who push for the change to increase fan interest and those who say this sort of thing goes against the basic element of one-on-one tennis.

Djokovic is one player, and French Open runner-up Casper Ruud is another, who said he saw merit in both positions.

“I admire (the ATP) for trying something new,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old Norwegian who was coached by his father, former pro Christian. “At the same time, it’s the beauty of our sport that we have to understand the game and everything ourselves.”

A key moment in the tennis coaching conversation occurred during the 2018 US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, when Mouratoglou – then working with Williams – was seen by the referee of chair, and later recognized, waving from his seat. Mouratoglou has been a strong voice in favor of allowing coaching during games.

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There are those, like 32nd-ranked American Tommy Paul, who recognize how badly coaching against the rules is going these days.

“It would only be a mistake if people weren’t doing it already,” said Paul, who reached the fourth round on his All England Club debut. “I don’t want there to be coaching per se. I don’t think that’s the way the sport is supposed to be. But people do it so much that it’s kind of normal now.

Or as three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka summed it up: “It’s not something completely new. It’s just something that’s going to be allowed.

Others raise a question of fairness: what if a player doesn’t have a coach at all? Is this going to create some sort of unfair advantage?

“You can play guys — journeymen working for many years — who can’t afford a coach. Maybe they are traveling with their friend or their brother,” said Frances Tiafoe, an American ranked 28th and finishing in the fourth round this week. “And then you have a guy who pays someone $5,000 a week who knows everything about everything.”

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Jessica Pegula, a two-time Major United States quarter-finalist and ranked No. 9, has experienced legal coaching on the women’s tour and isn’t so sure it will make a significant difference in the men’s game .

“Some people think it’s going to be a big, huge game-changing thing. I don’t think so. You can’t exactly call tennis a game. There are no set pieces. It’s not like football or basketball,” she said. “And some players probably don’t want to hear it. They’re going to be like, ‘Stop talking to me! Shut up!'”

Grand Slam regulations explicitly prohibit coaching: “Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including warm-up). Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching. »

On Tuesday, three women were fined at Wimbledon for training, including penalties of $3,500 for 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza and $4,500 for Lesia Tsurenko.

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ATP guidelines state that coaches will sit in designated seats; they can only talk to their players when both are on the same side of the pitch, but hand signals are still acceptable; they will only be allowed to speak and make gestures “if this does not interrupt play or create any discomfort for the opponent”; speech should be limited to “a few words and/or short sentences”.

Gilbert was working with Agassi when the ATP decided to let the coaches coach at a few tournaments more than 20 years ago – and he’s glad the tour is giving him another chance.

“It’s a long time coming,” Gilbert said. “And if there is a one-sided game, maybe sometimes it can let the fans see a better game.”


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