A time authorized then prohibited, coaching off the field will be allowed again. The ATP announced on Tuesday June 21 that it was going to authorize the coaching of coaches with their player during matches.
This measure, which will be tested from July 11 until the end of the season at the Masters next November in Turin, including at the US Open (August 29-September 11), will concern the matches of the qualifying draw as well as those of the main draw of the ATP circuit. These exchanges “verbal and non-verbal” will however be supervised. They will only be authorized from the stands and from seats allocated to coaches.
These interventions must not disrupt the game or hinder the opponent, and must be limited to a few words or sentences, and not conversations. Another condition: these exchanges will be accepted only when the coach and the player are on the same side of the field.
Gestures will be authorized throughout the match, always taking care not to interrupt the game or disturb the opponent. On the other hand, verbal or gestural coaching will be prohibited if the player were to leave the court, for whatever reason. “Non-verbal coaching was forbidden but everyone used it. It existed and it still exists and is not sanctioned. The ATP ultimately only normalizes what existed in secret, without the referee sees it or does not sanction it”, reacts Patrice Hagelauer, former coach of Yannick Noah, of the France Davis Cup team and ex-DTN within the French Tennis Federation (FFT). The Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas has regularly been criticized by his opponents, accusing him of benefiting from coaching from his camp.
To frame this new rule, the ATP specifies in its press release that “dPenalties and fines will always be applied in case of abuse or misuse of the coaching conditions”. A framework with still vague limits leading to possible abuses. “It’s an open door to abuse, which will be difficult to arbitrate”, adds Patrice Hagelauer.
This reworking of the rules is not necessarily well accepted in the world of tennis. “It can change the outcome of a game, because it is on small details that we win or not. This will create an imbalance during the matches”, slices the player Enzo Couacaud, “disappointed” by the announcement of the ATP. Details in particular on the technical aspect, an essential element of the game.
“We see players who have analytical skills when changing sides and who allow them to find solutions if necessary, which is a quality, while others have a lot more trouble, explains former player Arnaud Clément. There, we are going to have an outside look which will help the players and take away from some the little extra they have compared to others. I find that a bit of a shame.” develops the former captain of the French Davis Cup team, “opposite” to this new rule.
To the point of distorting the very essence of tennis? “Yes, replies Enzo Couacaud, 207th player in the world. In tennis, these are two players who compete, and the tactical aspect is really a strength or a weakness for the players. Some play very well but tactically fail to find the keys against an opponent. Today, by paying a coach, sometimes super expensive because he is a former top 5 or top 10 in the world, the coach will give him the keys.
And me, I will therefore play against the opponent and the coach who was top 5 in the world. It’s harder and unfair. We don’t all have the same resources. It should be such player against such player and each with his weapons to win.Enzo Couacaud, 207th player in the world
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For the 27-year-old, who is currently taking part in Wimbledon qualifying, theOff-court coaching is an admission of weakness for the ATP. “I have the impression that the ATP has put this rule for great players who were still being coached, and who were not sanctioned. The ATP is changing the rules so that they no longer have to police behind it”, believes Enzo Couacaud. “I have the impression that we are trying more and more to change the rules of tennis, coaching, the toilet break, the 25 seconds on serve which are not always respected, he continues. The ATP does not arrive not to enforce the instructions to the top players, and we, the other players, we pay for that. That’s what’s a bit outrageous.”
This rule change allows the ATP to align with the WTA, which had carried out a coaching test from the stands in certain tournaments in 2020. The essay will be subject to collective evaluation at the end of the 2022 season, in order to define the possibility of permanently including off-field coaching in the following seasons.
And therefore include tennis in the long list of disciplines evolving with off-court coaching. “It is in tune with the times, believes Patrice Hagelauer. In many sports, there is coaching, so maybe you have to try the experiment, and see if there are abuses or not. The next five months will therefore give a trend on this question, which is as thorny as it is contested.