By Ashlee Woods
Some of the best moments in sports history happened because a coach stepped up and helped their players, and tennis looks like it’s willing to be more receptive of a coach’s job. On Wednesday morning, the ATP announced an off-court coaching trial. Coaches will be able to guide their players out of trouble starting on July 11 — not by having full conversations, but through gestures and abbreviated verbal phrases. The trial will end at the Nitto ATP Finals and the results will be evaluated.
“Congratulations to the ATP for ‘legalizing’ a practice that has been going on at almost every match for decades,” Patrick Mourataglou wrote on Twitter. “No more hypocrisy.”
For years, what made tennis unique is that a player has to ride the ebbs and flows of a match by themselves. It’s what makes Rafael Nadal so great. It helped Serena Williams win 23 career singles grand slams. But not everyone has the tennis IQ of a tennis great. Sometimes, a player may realize what they’re doing is wrong, but can’t find a solution.
Tennis has seen some vast changes over the past couple years. Some — like a final set tiebreak and ballpeople not handling sweaty towels — have been good for the sport. Others have not, but this one may actually help the game more than hurt it.
Yes, seeing a player like Nadal dig out of a two-set hole to win a major with problem solving is awe-inspiring. But there are countless other awe-inspiring moments that wouldn’t have happened if a coach didn’t step in to make the right call.
Imagine if Kyra Elzy, head coach of Kentucky women’s basketball, had not drawn up a play for her best shooter, Dre’Una Edwards, on the fateful day of the SEC championship finals. Kentucky wouldn’t have won the SEC championship. Is that moment lessened because a coach set her team up for success?
That’s what coaches are supposed to do. Set their players up for success.
The prestige, glory and honor that comes with winning a title on tour isn’t lessened by someone telling another person what to do. It’s what allowed many people to win championships. If taking away points won’t dim the light of a major, I’m hesitant to say that off-court coaching will.
What makes a match exciting is not what a coach says to a player. It’s how that player executes that thought. If Edwards doesn’t make that shot, if Nadal doesn’t nail that drop shot at 0-40 down 2-3 in the third set, we don’t get to see those moments.
Off-court coaching doesn’t take away the validity of winning. In fact, coaching is a big reason why the top players execute consistently. Every player isn’t suddenly going to win matches in bunches because of this. In five months, the rule change may no longer exist. But that doesn’t mean tennis shouldn’t try something new.
Tennis, a sport in desperate need of a facelift, has shown that they’re okay with change. The burden now lies on the fans. Enjoy the sport and the content we’re getting from it. If you’re worried about the sport changing too much, ask yourself this question:
Is the future of tennis really contingent on whether or not two people can do watered down TikTok dances at each other?