ATP’s Off-court Coaching Trial – Long Time Coming

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.          

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