Another epic match. Another monumental battle. This time the Spaniard prevailed, and the sports fraternity is again busy to decide who is the greatest of all time! The number crunching has begun. Novak still holds an edge with 30-29 in their rivalry, so he is the best. Well, the other school thinks, Rafa has more majors (21) and hence he is the king. Novak has won more Grand Slams in the last 10 years and hence he is the undisputed leader. Rafa has dominated one grand slam like no one else, winning it 13 times and counting. So, he has to be at the top. Then there is this other group who argues Roger has played more semifinals, quarter finals and finals in the Grand Slams and made more appearances. Ergo he is the greatest!! Well seems like the academic aptitude of the sports lovers flies high when we talk about this trio. The history of sports has been marred (should I say that) with the funny comparisons. James vs Jordan, Schumacher vs Hamilton, Pele vs Maradona and the list goes on.
I for one, couldn’t care less. Soaking into another magical night, on the famed red clay of La Ville Lumière, adorned by two of the finest athletes of our generation, the statistics was the last thing in my mind. The lethal approach shots of the Serbian, matched shot by shot with that superlative inside-out from the lefty, the impossible “Gets” of Nole with his 500 ft wing span countered by the inconceivable change of the directions by the El Nino – took my breath away. Grit, determination, self-belief, aggression, skills and above all the radiance of two giants of the game – everything was on display. Two men were fighting as if every point was a championship point. At the end of the day, one prevailed but the other didn’t as in any sports.
Why dissect and bisect every performance of these greats of the game? It is ours to learn, enjoy and reflect from these illustrious encounters. When they win that only shows the hunger and the pursuit of excellence, and when they lose it only shows how human they are. Mere numbers do not make them great or differentiate one from the other, it is the humility, grace and the relentless search for the summit which transcend them to the legends of the game that they are. I don’t believe in this mundane debate of the “GOAT”. To borrow Feynman’s words I don’t care what other people think. If Novak, Roger or Rafa did not exist in our generation, we would probably have to invent g to script the tennis folklore!
ATP announced this week that they are going to allow on a trial basis off-court coaching starting with all tournaments in the tour post Wimbledon. They have also laid out some guidelines such as that the coach must be confined in the designated coach seats, the player has to be there in the same side as where the coach is seated, non-verbal coaching is allowed any time and so on. Though many players such as Tsitsipas welcomed the move, as expected, it has come under significant criticism from several former and current players notably Andy Roddick and Nick Kyrgios. Needless to mention many of these disapprovals are based on unfounded or silly arguments. Some are saying that off-court coaching may change the course of the game, and some argue that many players can’t afford a dedicated coach (well with the millions of dollars that a pro is earning, this seems quite funny unless of course you want the most expensive coach in the world!). Coaching during a match is not a new thing. It has been around in sports for many many years. It is quite common in Soccer, Basketball and Hockey games. Even in sports such as Cricket, during lunch and tea breaks, coaching has been a common phenomenon. One could argue that these are team sports. But then even in individual events such as Boxing, the coach can be found yelling and guiding the boxer in the ring. Badminton, which to some extent has similarities with Tennis, allows off-court coaching for quite some time with the coach being restricted to his or her designated seating area.
So, I do not understand what is the fuss all about. Would Casper Rudd have beaten Rafa in the Roland Garros finals had the former be coached during the match. Or would we have a different big 3 or a new “GOAT” if coaching was allowed? I do not think the 2008 Wimbledon Finals or the 2012 Australian Open Finals or for that matter 2022 Australian Open Finals would have a different outcome if coaching was provided to the players. In the ATP tour, in the events such as ATP250, ATP500, Maters 100 series, the players compete at such a high level, coaching is allowed or not will rarely have any significant impact. In fact, when you are competing in an area witnessed by 20000 people or being watched globally by millions of people and the chips are down with you, a coaching is more of a morale booster or encouragement than anything else. A couple of words here and there may not have any material impact on the final score. Arguably Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France are some of the greatest soccer teams ever and no one could dethrone them just by having a coach shout at them. Even in WTA where coaching is permitted to a good extent, the greatness of the likes of Serena, Barty or now Swiatek could not be matched by anyone else regardless of whether the rest of these players were provided coaching or not.
I would argue that whether or not coaching is allowed on-court or off-curt, people would still figure out a way to get inputs through hand signs and body languages. We all recall the controversy from the Naomi and Serena match in the 2018 US Open. Serena’s coach Mouratoglou allegedly coached Serena during the match using hand signs. So, ATP’s move is a welcome move that will put an end to such disputes and everything hopefully will be fair and square (and I hope Tsitsipas and his dad will be particularly happy and Medvedev will not have to throw Gilles Cervara a 3rd time. No pun intended!). To me all the negative noise about this rule is another instance of much ado about nothing.