The U.S. Open Women’s final was memorable for many reasons. The one sticky issue it opened was about coaching. Is on-court coaching done and should it be allowed? Like a good rally, this point goes back and forth, but there is no clear answer.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams coach, said it goes on all the time and everybody does it. Mardy Fish says it does happen, but not all the time. Brad Gilbert said he did it but never got caught. The coaching rule itself is just as confusing.
As it stands now, men’s tennis, besides Davis Cup, has no on-court coaching during play at all and women do it during breaks at some tournaments. The Grand Slams do not allow it for men and women. The sides for and against have been drawn.
Federer, boxing and team sports
Players such as Roger Federer are against on-court coaching. He believes part of the appeal of tennis is that it is an individual sport and the player must figure out it by himself. This is where boxing is often brought in as a comparison, but that has its flaws. The boxer is alone during the fight with coaching in between rounds.
Proponents will point to team sports like football and basketball and the out in front coaching on the sidelines. Tennis does a version of this coaching in Davis Cup. Even golfers have a caddie with them on every hole.
Purists of the game think that tennis needs to stay a mano a mano test and looks at coaching like a weakness. Players will attest that a good coach does make a difference. Andy Murray credits Ivan Lendl with his breakthrough in winning Grand Slams. Coaches can get a player in shape and formulate a great strategy, but the on the court it is the execution. The bottom line is the player.
Critics of coaching also point to the higher ranked richer players will have better coaching then a lower ranked player. That is a true point that can be seen in even the NFL where the teams all have a lot of money to get any coach they want. And yet, any team can beat any other team, as they say, “on any given Sunday.”
Considering how the medical time-out rules are used and abused, coaching would be an easy addition to tennis. Coaching might even eliminate all the charades of medical time-outs.
Why coaching would be good for tennis
Tennis needs help based on all the constant tinkering with scoring and format changes that spring up almost weekly. Coaching on the court would be a fairly natural change that would improve the game not just for the players themselves, but for the fans as well.