The WTA Gets A Grip

You have to laugh out loud when you read about the new changes for the WTA tour and why they were chosen. Particularly the item about allowing on court coaching. As you may know, they experimented with this near the end of the year. The powers that be in the WTA, whose members are mostly male by the way, appear ready to decree that on-court coaching is good, it adds to the fan base. They are thinking of allowing it from the stands as well.

Here’s how the announcement went: “In light of the positive feedback from fans, broadcasters and others, and in recognition of the difficulty in policing coaching from the stands, the Tour also intends to put forth a proposal in the coming months to legalize coaching from the stands, subject to important parameters that would ensure no disruption or interference with play.”

Hmm, this sounds suspiciously like they’re saying, we all know that illegal coaching from the stands goes on all the time and even though we tried….God knows, we TRIED, we just couldn’t…do anything about it, (and that whole thing with Maria and the hand signals from her father and the banana…well, we just can’t endure getting laughed at again), so…well…we’re throwing up our hands and saying, let’s make it LEGAL!

What a novel idea, we must say. There’s a tasty little pastry of ideas and changes the Tour brass are playing with. I hesitate to call it a waffle just yet, let’s see how it plays out. Changes that would shorten the season and ensure that the top players show up for tournaments they commit to.

Its a risky proposition these days to buy a ticket to a tennis event – especially if it is a smaller one – where the chances are good the player you bought that ticket to see pulls out due to whatever. There have been lots of whatevers this year so now the tour will reduce the commitment players must make from playing at least 13 tournaments down to 11. There’s even some thought about combining men’s and women’s events, which would be nice I suppose, but I don’t seem to have a strong opinion on that one. I do, though, on this proposed on-court coaching thing, an idea which should be strangled quickly, before it hatches.

Yesterday I spoke with my collaborator Nina Rota, and was surprised to hear she feels quite the opposite. For her the change would be good for the game. It would be more fun to watch a real contest rather than one where the player getting her butt kicked hasn’t a clue how to correct it. A bit of legalized coaching might overcome that. The player could make the adjustment and put on a better show.

I say, yes, go for the better show, but on your own.

Actually, a goodly number of people around tennis have spoken out against the on-court coaching. The gist of their arguments is that it’s SINGLES, for heaven’s sake. Just you and your internal clock that should be telling you when to eat, what to eat, when to challenge a call, and what strategy you should be adding to or subtracting from on court.

Besides, do you really want to see your mother out on court? Assuming she is your coach. Considering what some of the young players endure at the hands of tennis parents, maybe being on court is a nice break from family togetherness. Tennis is so much a game about what goes on between the ears, why tinker with that? That’s why I have a bug up my wazoo about this.

Earlier in the year there was that moment when Roger Federer showed he was human after all. He got testy with Tony Nadal coaching Rafa from the stands in Rome. He took it as more than just a personal affront, it was an affront to the sport. Roger is a purist, the way he is about using a 90cm faced racquet. Other top players including Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova also had a negative response to the idea of coaching. Even Sharapova, of all people, holder of the most egregiously bad example of illegal coaching this season.

When the WTA refers to the “positive feedback from fans, broadcasters and others,” I noticed that no mention was made of the guys and girls at the heart of the matter, the players. Unless they are included in the “others” category. I haven’t seen an official survey yet but it’s probably true that the closer you get to the top of the rankings heap, the less the players like the coaching idea. They’ve already figured out how to coach themselves; you should too.

This could be a point where we segue into the notion that tennis is an elitist sport and that is what compels us, so why fool around with that? But this will be a whole other can of worms to be opened later, during the time of Off-Season Appeasement, when we’ll need a few good battle royales to keep us warm and happy.

The Tour board members call their plan RoadMap 2010. Lately it’s been pushed up a year. RoadMap 2009. Do I hear a 2008? Their eagerness is staggering. Let’s hope we’re not on the highway to hell.

To read more about rule changes go to 2006 WTA Championships: Last One Standing