Is all attention good attention? Well, Serena Williams’ 2018 US Open coaching debacle certainly brought the tennis world to the spotlight. But, I think it hurts the image of the sport.
For weeks on end, tennis fans had to endure several replays of Serena Williams’ meltdown in the 2018 US Open Championship due to several violations, most notably a coaching violation.
As for non-tennis fans, surely they understood that her tantrum was wrong, but certainly, they were asking themselves, “What is illegal about coaching?”
Well fellow sports fans, welcome to the world of grand slam tennis, where pressure is at its peak and coaching isn’t allowed.
That doesn’t sound logical to you? Yeah, me either.
What Exactly Are The Rules Of Coaching In Tennis?
Before we can even talk about why the rules should be changed, I think it’s important that the current rules are understood.
Here are the rules according to the ITF’s 2021 rule book. It is a bit lengthy, but it’s worth the read to get a full understanding of the rule.
“Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including the warm-up). Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching. Players shall also prohibit their coaches (1) from using audible obscenity within the precincts of the tournament site, (2) from making obscene gestures of any kind within the precincts of the tournament site, (3) from verbally abusing any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site, (4) from physically abusing any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site and (5) from giving, making, issuing, authorising or endorsing any public statement within the precincts of the tournament site having, or designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of the tournament and/or of the officiating thereof. Violation of this Section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the warmup), the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth. In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly egregious, the Referee may order the Coach to be removed from the site of a match or the precincts of the tournament site and upon his failure to comply with such order may declare an immediate default of such player.”– 2021 Official grand Slam rule book
Many people, including Serena Williams and Patrick Moratogalu, would like you to think that the rules on coaching at a Grand Slam are unfair.
Moratogalu actually made several comments on the matter after Williams’ infamous meltdown at the 2018 US Open.
What he is saying certainly has some backing since it definitely isn’t viewer-friendly to have the umpire and the player arguing, and changing the score.
But, the rules are the rules no matter who you are, and as Moratogalu would later admit himself, he was attempting to coach Serena from the coaches’ box.
Here’s a short clip of the situation, and no matter whether or not you agree with the rule, this is certainly against it.
So, I don’t think it is fair to make the argument that the rules are unclear, they don’t apply to everyone, or that the umpire shouldn’t be able to enforce the rules.
Rather, our focus should be shifted to why the rule exists in the first place. Why in the world are coaches not allowed to coach?
Everything Wrong With Coaches Not Being Able To Coach
The great football coach Tom Landry was once quoted saying, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t wanna see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”
It’s hard to put it any better than that, coaches are there to tell you what you need to hear, show you what you need to see, and help you be the best version of yourself.
Tennis is a notoriously mentally grueling sport and it has chewed up and spit out its fair share of players over the years.
There are some very obvious examples such as Jennifer Capriati, Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, and many others. But, these players had some issues that possibly went beyond the scope of courtside coaching.
However, it isn’t uncommon to see players like Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Yulia Putintseva, and many other young, talented players let the mental aspect of the game hold them back from success.
In the moments that these players are the most vulnerable, they are stuck on an island by themselves, desperately failing to keep their inner voice positive.
I don’t want to see them breaking mentally, you don’t want to see that, and it isn’t good for the sport or the players’ mental health.
What would be an easy fix to this you might ask? Well, in the 2018 Moscow final we got that answer.
Down 2-6, 1-4, Daria Kasatkina’s hopes of winning the title were all but gone. But, thanks to the WTA’s rules that allow coaching during changeovers, a special moment was born.
Could you convince me that Kasatkina would have come back to win the title without the words of encouragement from her coach? No chance.
It’s certainly part of the challenge of tennis to be able to pick yourself off of the ground and find a way to win.
Still, we all have moments in our lives where we aren’t able to do that by ourselves. And, in those moments, few things can get you going quite like the sound of belief in your coach’s voice.
Of course, there are instances of coaches only further infuriating players…
But, in most cases, players realize that their coaches are only trying to help them and appreciate their help after the match if they couldn’t appreciate it during the match.
Now that the case for coaching is pretty clear, I’ll ask the more rhetorical question, “Why not allow coaching?”
There really is no good answer to that question, and purists seem to always fall back on the idea that tennis has always been played that way, so it should continue to be played that way.
Well, newsflash, just because something has always been done one way doesn’t mean it’s the right way.
Humans — and the sports in which they play — are supposed to evolve. We’re not still rubbing sticks to make fire, communicating through telegraph, or walking everywhere, are we?
Tennis has changed the felt on the ball, the court speeds, string types, racket types, and many other things to improve and modernize the game over the years. Heck, we even changed the color of the ball so it would be more tv-friendly.
Why shouldn’t tennis take the next step towards modernizing the sport by allowing coaching? Here’s a hint, there are no good answers to that question.
Opinions Around The Tennis World
It’s no secret that players, coaches, and fans in the tennis world have expressed strong opinions about coaching in tennis.
Here are a few of them that have been shared:
“For guys who don’t have a coach, like myself, or guys who can’t afford a coach, it’s not really a level playing field.”-Nick Kyrgios
“I think coaching is something the sport needs to embrace – it’s part of the story. We think the issue of coaching needs to be addressed and should be allowed across the sport. The WTA supports coaching through its on-court coaching rule, but further review is needed.”-Steve Simon, WTA Chief Executive
“When the WTA introduced on-court coaching, many ATP players were not really positive about it. I thought it was a good move for the sport. We’re probably one of the only global sports that doesn’t use coaching during the play. Even golf – individual sport – you have caddies that you communicate with throughout the entire course.”-Novak Djokovic
“It’s a little bit stupid that you have a coach traveling for you, with you during the whole season and practicing with you every day, and in the most important moment he cannot tell you anything. In my opinion, it will be good if if the coach can talk.”-Rafael Nadal
While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive resource of every tennis player or observers’ opinions, it certainly helps one to realize the controversy surrounding the situation.
There are some very big names in the sector calling for coaching to be allowed, and some that are more hesitant for it to find its way into Grand Slams.
The Final Verdict
The sky is blue. Grass is green. Death. Taxes. Coaches will coach.
These are things that will never change. No matter what the rules are, coaches are being paid to coach and they want to do just that.
The issue with banning something that a lot of people do anyways is that those who are diligent and don’t cheat are the ones being cheated by the system.
If courtside coaching is something that most players want and most players are already receiving, why not make it legal?
Why not even the playing field and give everyone a chance to increase their performance?
There are certainly people out there who believe that coaching shouldn’t be allowed in tennis, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that position.
But, for the intents and purposes of this article, the case for coaching at Grand Slams is a very strong one and needs to be seriously considered by the ITF.
A lot of times articles like these are written and they have really good points, but there isn’t much that can be done about the issues mentioned.
Well, that’s not the case here. If you’d like for coaching to make its way to Grand Slams, contact the ITF and let them know.