To coach or not to coach, on-court
Serena Williams’ coach Mouratoglou favours on-court coaching, others disagree
Monica Seles isn’t a fan of on-court coaching. Lindsay Davenport can see the benefits. Jennifer Capriati is right in the middle.
The three tennis greats took part in a news conference on 21 October at the WTA Finals to discuss the topic, which made plenty of headlines after Serena Williams was penalized for on-court coaching during the US Open final.
The WTA Tour has allowed limited on-court coaching since 2008, while the men’s tour and Grand Slam tournaments don’t permit any coaching during matches.
“My feeling is, as a former player, I personally don’t like the on-court coaching,” Seles said. “I think as a player at the highest level in your profession, you should be able to think for yourself. My dad always used to say before I stepped on court two things: ‘Move your feet and think.’”
Patrick Mouratoglou, the long-time coach of Serena Williams, posted a letter on 18 October on social media supporting on-court coaching. He indicated his opinion derives from the recent incident at the US Open when he was caught signalling from his courtside box to Williams to move forward.
As a rule, Williams doesn’t use the on-court coaching option at WTA tournaments and denied seeing Mouratoglou’s signal in New York, which he admitted to doing during that loss to Naomi Osaka.
“Coaching is a vital component of any sporting performance,” Mouratoglou said in his letter. “Yet, banning it almost makes it look as if it had to be hidden or as if it was shameful.” Davenport, who has had an on-again-off-again coaching relationship with Madison Keys the past few years, said there are merits to on-court coaching but flaws exist.
“I think another topic to that whole conversation is, is that like another advantage to the top players?” Davenport said. “What about all the players maybe ranked, I don’t know where that number is, 60 and below, that can’t afford a coach every week?”
Capriati isn’t completely convinced, but she’s not against it either. “I’m kind of on the fence about it,” Capriati said. “Part of it is when you’re there, I mean how much can a coach do at that point? If you need a coach at that point, I think you’re kind of lost.
“Then I thought about myself and playing, it could have maybe made all the difference in the world.”
Sascha Bajin, who was a hitting partner for Williams for eight years, is now the head coach for Osaka. He is also not a fan of the concept but he dutifully went on court when Osaka called for a consultation midway through the first set against Sloane Stephens on 21 October.
“If I have to look back why I started with this sport it was because my father and my mother wanted to teach me something,” Bajin said. “I was learning to overcome problems myself. I think something beautiful about this sport is that it’s really only you and to be a good problem-solver.”
Raemon Sluiter, a former top-50 player who now coaches Kiki Bertens, said on-court coaching provides less-than-appealing optics for the public. “I think our main purpose, I’m talking as a WTA standpoint or women’s tennis standpoint, or even women’s standpoint, you want to show them as strong as they are,” Sluiter said. “I think a lot of times when the coaches come on court, they are not necessarily used as a help line but more as an ambulance.”
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