ATP's Controversial Coaching Trial



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ATP's Controversial Coaching Trial

In a stunning move last week, the ATP tour announced the trial of Off Court Coaching on the ATP tour until the end of season of 2022. The biggest impact for this rule will be at the US open Championships later in August. Some of the rules set forth says that coaches must remain in their designated seats, and verbal coaching is allowed—when the player is on the same side of the court as his coach.

They have further clarified on specific details with these points

  • Coaches must sit in the tournament’s designated coach seats
  • Coaching (verbal and non-verbal) is allowed only if it does not interrupt play or create any hindrance to the opponent
  • Verbal coaching is permitted only when the player is at the same end of the court
  • Non-verbal coaching (hand signals) is permitted at any time
  • Verbal coaching may consist of a few words and/or short phrases (no conversations are permitted)
  • Coaches may not speak to their player when the player leaves the court for any reason
  • Penalties and fines will still apply for abuse or misuse of the above coaching condition.
Depending on where one stands with allowing coaching, there are very diverse viewpoints.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has welcomed this decision as he has blatantly gotten several code violations for receiving coaching from his dad. Rafa has welcomed this trial as has former Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou who is also full time coach of Simona Halep now.

Mouratoglou had openly admitted to giving hand signals to Serena during her final against Osaka at the 2018 US Open where Serena was handed a point penalty. Serena, though didn’t notice his signals. Former WTA player and ESPN commentator Pam Shriver says “It’s time for this, Seeing how they were having a hard time enforcing the no-coaching rule, why not?” There are also many who are against this thought process like Jim Courier and possibly Federer to name a few.

In my view, there are 2 main reasons why allowing on court coaching is not such a great idea. Firstly, all along, tennis had always been about individuality. The brain and thought process of a player along with their physical and stroke making skills is brilliantly highlighted as a one man/woman effort.

Troubleshooting is so key in this sport especially when everyone is able to hit the same forehands,backhands and serves. I sometimes tell players that tennis is like a physical chess game. You have got to figure out the opponent's weaknesses as and when you are facing them and be able to troubleshoot.

As a pro player, you have got to possess this trait. In my view, that’s what made tennis so unique. Secondly, this coaching rule will give undue advantage for the higher ranked or top players since they are able to hire the top level coaches.

Back in 1999, when ATP experimented with on court coaching, Brad Gilbert is said to have coached Agassi to win three back to back titles. That was soon scrapped. Some of these lower ranked players travel alone and this becomes quite unfair for them.Lower ranked players will not only have to compete against a top player, they also will need to compete against their coaches.

ATP claims this new coach trial may bring more interest and excitement to the sport. WTA tour experimented with coaching back in 2008-2009 It didn’t seem to make that big an impact at that time. Whether this will add excitement remains to be seen.

USTA currently allows coaching for their junior tournaments when players split sets. I think that is a good rule wherein coaches are able to help some of the juniors think and strategize. While I am against coaching on the ATP tour, I think coaching should be allowed for junior players.

Juniors are in the developmental stages where they have a lot of learning to do about strategies and troubleshooting. This will help develop juniors in a wholesome way, so when they reach the ATP and WTA tour levels, they will be able to be individualistic and independent thinkers.