Since 2009, the WTA Tour has allowed on-court coaching. Players are allowed one coaching visit per set. The coach must wear a microphone for TV audiences. The choice to use on-court coaching is entirely up to the player. It is not allowed on the men’s tour or at any of the four Grand Slams.
The rule has been controversial ever since its institution. An incident at this week’s Miami Open has reignited the debate. Reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza and Coach Sam Sumyk got into a heated exchange where Muguruza told him to “shut the (expletive) up.” Sumyk responded with “Don’t ever tell me to shut the (expletive) up again.” Keep in mind, a national television audience heard the whole thing.
Tennis is a sport that likes to project a squeaky clean image. Thus, this has ruffled some feathers in and around the sport. Many are calling for an end to on-court coaching. This has been the case from the very beginning. There is a sliver of tennis purist inside me that believes that on-court coaching undermines the individuality of the sport as well as the problem-solving skills a player must possess.
That argument is understandable. Even so, the pros of on-court coaching far outweigh the cons and here is why.
Unprecedented Access to the Heat of Battle:
It is very common for athletes and coaches in almost every other sport to wear microphones. Even so, on-court coaching provides tennis with something very unique. The public did not get to hear what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick said to each other when New England trailed by 25 points in the third quarter of the Super Bowl live. We only got to hear an edited version after the fact.
In the case of Muguruza, we got to hear exactly what was said while she was down a set and a break to American Christina McHale. Then, she went on to win the match in three sets with a little help from a well-timed rain delay. If you stop and think about it, that is pretty cool for a fan watching at home. If the occasional expletive from an athlete competing at the highest level bothers you, get thicker skin.
It Allows Fans to See the Personality of the Players:
This is the one thing I have always liked about the rule. Even for casual fans, on-court coaching tells you a lot about the way players approach matches. Above is a snippet from the SportsMagicianJJ YouTube channel. It features a coaching visit by Sven Groeneveld to his long time pupil Maria Sharapova. It is all about tactics. Sharapova says nothing and just stares off in to the distance. This is one common approach to coaching visits.
Another approach is in the video below from the WTA’s YouTube channel. American journeywoman Madison Brengle became an Internet legend after she joked with her coach about how to handle the immense power of Serena Williams at a season-opening event in New Zealand. Brengle would go on to upset Williams.
The approaches in the two videos are vastly different, but both highly effective. Most important, it lets the fans inside the mind of the players. Anything that allows players to be more than people on the court smacking a yellow ball around is good for the sport. The players who do not believe in the rule simply do not take advantage of it, and that is their prerogative.
The rule does need some tweaking. If the women have the option for on-court coaching, the men should as well. The Grand Slams should continue to not feature the on-court coaching option. Those are what every player plays for. When the time comes, they should sink or swim on those stages all on their own. Overall, on-court coaching just adds another layer to the television viewing experience for the fans. That is never a bad thing.