The ATP Tour for men’s professional tennis announced that in the second half of the season, which begins on July 11, ‘off-court coaching’ will be on trial in tournaments. The trial will also take place at the final Grand Slam of the season – the US Open from August 29, and the season finale – the Nitto ATP Finals, in November. This will be the latest addition to a list of coaching trials that tennis has seen over the years, including on-court coaching and also coaching through headsets.
The latter was tried out during the NextGen ATP Finals, where players were permitted to use headsets to listen to their coaches during changeovers. Earlier, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) had conducted a trial run of ‘off-court coaching’ in 1999, permitting the coach to visit his player once per set. Andre Agassi won three ATP titles during this trial, and after that, the body withdrew it.
This announcement aligns the ATP Tour with the women’s WTA Tour, which already has an ‘off-court coaching’ trial in place. Beginning in 2009, WTA permitted a limited number of visits by coaches during changeovers.
More significantly, it will also be allowed at this year’s US Open. Grand Slams are governed by the ITF (International Tennis Federation), where the rule states that coaching, except in team events, is not allowed. The Grand Slam rule book further reads that “communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching”.
Off-court coaching is among the most notoriously grey areas in professional tennis. It’s a practice frowned upon by some, normalised by others but primarily accepted as standard practice during most matches involving a majority of the players on tour.
The ATP, in its NextGen Finals, competed between the season’s best 21-and-under players and allowed players to use headsets to communicate with their coaches during changeovers. The spectacle also made for good television, an aspect the ATP aims to tap into with this off-court experiment. “In addition to ensuring consistency across the sport for the benefit of players and fans, the trial aims to create additional points of intrigue and insight to enhance the fan experience,” the ATP statement said.
Some players lash out
Nick Kyrgios has blasted the ATP after the governing body for men’s tennis announced it would trial “off court” coaching in the second half of the season, as his Wimbledon preparations hit an obstacle.
The Canberran was upset, saying it would take away the head-to-head battle between players if they get advice from the stands.
“Completely disagree. Loses one of the only unique traits that no other sport had. The player had to figure out things on his own. That was the beauty of it,” Kyrgios tweeted.
“What happens if a high profile player versus a low ranked player who doesn’t have or afford a coach?”