The WTA’s Quest For Love

Next year is bringing some new changes to the women’s tour and while change in sport is normally a good thing, some of the proposed changes are already setting teeth on edge. My teeth have been in a roil since the WTA announced plans to experiment further with on-court coaching during matches.

For much of the season we have heard from the top female players (for the most part they are against it). Several of the commentators have spoken out against it too, notably Mary Carillo, who was quoted as saying:

“I don’t like this one bit. It goes against everything I truly respect about my sport. I was raised as a tennis player by the late, great Harry Hopman, the Aussie coach who taught us that if you walk out on the court, you are declaring yourself ready to play, no injuries, no excuses.”

Yesterday in a telephone interview, Larry Scott, the WTA head, said, “We didn’t start out with a goal of legalizing coaching, but as we got into it, and after what happened at the U.S. Open, we had to ask, if there’s a benefit to it why wouldn’t you?”

I love that one, don’t you? Let’s do it because…because it’s – there. And now that we’ve established that, let’s give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back, shall we? “We realize we’re pushing the envelope in terms of the culture and tradition of the sport,” Scott said. Groundbreakers for sure, those WTA board members.

They plan to lay out clear rules for when and how the coaching takes place. “Nothing about this do we want to be disruptive,” said Scott.

But I would argue that the whole idea is already disruptive enough. For one thing it is based on the rather spurious notion that something is not quite right with the state of tennis these days; we need to goose it up somehow, in the interests of making it more “fan friendly.”

The fact I oppose on court coaching for the women’s tour may mean I support tennis as an elitist kind of sport. We should not be ashamed of this aspect. Nor should we want to see the powers that be turn it into a Walmart in the sporting world. Tennis is unique and interesting because it is so idiosyncratic, starting with the players. They get wrapped up in their own styles of playing, some of them handle pressure, many of them don’t. Each one is on a personal journey and that is why we love to follow them. Where will they go?

It has been argued that other individual sports allow coaching and everything is hunky dory there, so why not tennis? Golfers strategize endlessly with their caddies, boxers get counsel in between rounds of pummeling, why not tennis players? But why does tennis need to be like those sports? Can’t we be different? Is it not ok to be different anymore?

What really offends me about this proposal is the idea lurking in back of it which seems to be that we’re dealing with very young and un-worldly girls who can’t figure things out on their own, they need guidance every step of the way. Well excuse me, I thought that’s why people went into tennis, because it is an individual sport and you have to bring a unique mentality to it.

If you have a problem during a match – for example, you’re getting your butt kicked – you have to figure out the response by yourself. You go from an extreme state of being inundated with people around you – your trainer, your coach, your nutritionist, your psychologist, your dog, your dog handler (have we left anyone out, yes, the most important element, THE PARENT(S) – to being totally alone once you are on the court.

Does the WTA think this shift is too much for the 16-year-olds on tour to manage? They must, although it’s not really phrased that way. The WTA people are bringing this to us as something that will be “good for the game.” That is an argument I for one just don’t get. How on earth is this good for the long-term health of the game? Do they really think they can sell one more seat just because Sharapova’s dad could come on court and coach her? (A misnomer in his case, as it will be a lecture). And if we don’t want to go along with it, does this make us bad for the game? Are we the ones being the curmudgeons and anti-progress?”

What exactly do they mean by implying that tennis is not a perfect institution, that it may in fact be a little, well, a LOT, elitist, God forbid. Somehow they are tiptoeing around like there is something evil and wicked about this. People might not like us. We can’t have that. We need to be more down to earth, just folks, if we can humble ourselves abjectly enough, we can draw more fans.

It won’t be the silly gimmicks that draw new fans, it will be the usual standard stuff, like showing the “good” match-ups on TV rather than the ones the network schedules because: a) it’s got a highly ranked American in it, b) it’s got an American in it. Instead, you get interesting match-ups that the networks don’t acknowledge, or if they do it is briefly, more in passing.

The networks have to get over the fact that most matches worthy of televising these days are going to be played by European or South American players. I’d rather watch two foreigners well-matched than a rout where Andy Roddick disembowels some lowly ranked player from Pachooch. If you want to attract fans by selling them on how good tennis can be, then showing them good tennis would be a good idea for starters. Show the good match-ups, no matter what their nationalities. Otherwise you won’t attract new fans. And you will never attract fans by selling tennis thru gimmicks, like on court coaching.

The WTA wants to make me feel guilty that tennis is the way it is and I resent that. We snotty types, we don’t want the game tinkered with, keep yo mama off that court! Whereas the official pov for want of a better name, is to indulge in a policy of appeasement. And there is more appeasement on the way, just step right up and hold your plate out. Now the WTA is thinking of allowing coaching from the stands as well as on-court coaching.

They will come up with new and devastating ways to undermine the basic integrity of the game, all to attract some of those beerswilling NASCAR guys, as if they are going to stay longer than it takes to check out Sharapova’s legs.

Because the WTA no longer seems really committed to the welfare of the sport, they may indeed attract new fans, but those fans really won’t have the interest to stick with it over time. The WTA crowd wants to be liked(!) But will tennis be liked at the end of all this nonsense? On court coaching will give those NASCAR boys a good block of time to run and buy some snacks. It extends the coffee break. If this is what they think will save tennis, then let’s just let it sink instead, shall we?

See also:
The WTA Gets A Grip