Has in-game coaching changed tennis at the US Open? | Tennis


JFor the casual tennis fan, there’s probably a sense that the US Open looked and felt different this fortnight than in previous years. And that impression would be quite accurate. In addition to the return of full participation to Flushing Meadows following the Covid intrusion on all live events in 2020 and 2021, several rule changes implemented over the past 13 months have changed the look, action and the pace of competition.

In 2020, Novak Djokovic was scratched in the first set of his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta when, in a moment of intense frustration, he kicked a ball, hitting a linesman in the neck. His tournament stopped immediately.

If Djokovic had received his Covid vaccine and was at the Open this year, he wouldn’t have to worry about a recurrence. The reason: there are no more linesmen at the US Open, as all appeals are now handled electronically. This has undoubtedly been a positive development, except for the not inconsiderable downside of fewer sports jobs. The lack of interruptions with the lack of challenges for players was a welcome change, allowing a match to flow unhindered.

In that same 2020, Dominic Thiem rallied after two sets (the first time he had been accomplished in the final since 1949) to defeat Alexander Zverev in an extended fifth-set tiebreaker, 9-7 . But this year, that wouldn’t be enough, as the US Open has joined the other Grand Slam tournaments and now requires a 10-point tiebreaker in the deciding sets. Again, this is a wise rule change. When a match comes down to a fifth set (or third set for women), a seven-point tiebreaker has always been abrupt. Adding more points allows a match to proceed to its more organic conclusion and increases the tension in its final moments, as it should.

Finally, in the 2018 final against Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams infamously incurred a code violation after chair umpire Carlos Ramos, always known to be a rule follower, penalized the American for receiving coaching. in Patrick Mouratoglou’s players’ box. Now, however, in-match coaching is allowed.

Allowing training during a game has been the most talked about change in the sport in recent years. Looking ahead to the Open, several top players have spoken on the matter and the reaction has been mixed.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has been accused of having received more coaching than any other current player, was surprisingly not fully backed. He said: “My coach hasn’t been as low key as the other coaches, but that has always happened. Believe me, this happens with almost all players. The fact that it’s legalized now is going to make tennis a bit more peaceful, make players focus more on the game, less on different kinds of nonsense.

Others were just as directly opposed to the rule, such as Taylor Fritz who said, “I really hate it. It’s not something that should be part of our sport. Still others, like current men’s number 1 Daniil Medvedev, probably spoke for many players when he said: “I’ve never been against coaching, but I know I’m not really going to be there. use with my coach because we know how we work together. ”

Whatever one thinks, what should be of some concern is the overly specific – specific to the point of being vague – wording of the new rules which inevitably opens the door to loopholes. For instance:

“Off-field training is permitted from the dressing room or designated seats for players/coaches. In case the coach prefers to sit in a different area, training is only allowed on the side of the pitch (not behind the pitch).


“If a coach’s verbal coaching, hand signals or gestures begin to interrupt play or become a distraction to the opponent(s), or if the player or coach does not fully comply with , the chair umpire will notify the player of the escalation. If non-compliance continues, the player may be subject to penalties under the Coaches Rule.”

To stretch an analogy, the issue of match practice was one of those benign “everyone does it” offenses that the powers that be in sport decided to expose. Think of it like the legalization of marijuana in much of the United States; despite the illegality of cannabis for decades, a constructed societal consensus concluded that the harm caused by the drug did not match the punishment.

But wouldn’t it have been easier and more in line with the badass mentality of tennis if, instead of allowing frequent exhortations or instructions during the match, players had been allowed a “meeting” on the a minute or two with his coach at the end of a set?

We will know if this new rule has really changed the outcome of a game when a player says something like “my coach asked me to serve wide in the field of draws is the reason I won today “.

But until we see a direct connection, nothing will really change. After all, for any professional athlete, the notion of multitasking is impossible. If a player is completely locked in a match, any input from their coach will likely be muted.

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