Last month, the Sony Ericsson WTA tour decided to shelve its two-year experiment with on-court coaching. No one was more relieved than I to learn the news. From its inception, I viewed that type of tinkering with the game as a colossal error. Witnessing the exceptional tennis at Wimbledon and the French Open this year only served to reinforce that argument.
Tennis experts and fans concur that July’s Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was probably the best match they have seen or will ever see in their lifetime. What underscored the greatness of this contest was the fact that each man had to figure out for himself how to vanquish the other. Moreover, the spectator was riveted in trying to determine how each player would respond to an ever-dynamic court situation. Had coaching been permitted, this match’s grandeur would have been diminished. Can you imagine Nadal consulting with Uncle Tony as to how to approach the fifth set after losing his two sets to none advantage? Or Federer picking Mirkas’ brain as to how to deal with a dominant Rafa after two sets? Such interruptions or better-said intrusions would have taken away from the surreal moment the spectators and players were experiencing.
Another conspicuous example is the French Open. Dinara Safina plucked herself twice from the jaws of certain defeat to make it all the way to the finals. In facing the number one ranked player in the world, Safina only had her self to rely on when she needed to fight off match point. Tennis is the ultimate chess match. There is no recourse to a second opinion. All the practicing and strategizing are done beforehand. Each time one gets on the court; it is equivalent to a final exam. Once the first ball is struck, one doesn’t have the option of an open-book test, which is essentially what on-court coaching is.
On the other hand, some experts have contented that if coaching is allowed in other sports, why not tennis? In basketball or baseball, coaching is an absolute necessity because without clear leadership in team sports, chaos would ensue. Yet, singular sports such as boxing and wrestling permit additional instructions during intermissions, these are also two-man sports. Or what about golf where the player can consult his caddy prior to hitting? If one were to ask many of the elite tennis players what attracted them to the game as youngster, they would most likely respond the individuality of the sport. The concept of depending solely on “me, myself and I” is what makes tennis so compelling, in my opinion.
Regardless of the counterarguments put forth by coaching proponents, one must keep in mind that the sport has gone through many transformations over the years, some to its advancement and others to its detriment. Altering the no on-court coaching rule would, from my viewpoint, lead to the latter and take away from the uniqueness of the game.