In a surprising move last week, the ATP tour announced the Test of Off-Court Training on the ATP tour until the end of the 2022 season. The biggest impact of this rule will be at the US Open Championships. end of August. Some of the established rules say that coaches must stay in their designated seats and verbal coaching is allowed, when the player is on the same side of the court as their coach.
They have clarified more specific details with these points.
- Coaches must sit in designated tournament coach seats.
- Training (verbal and non-verbal) is allowed only if it does not interrupt the game or create any obstacles for the opponent.
- Verbal coaching is allowed only when the player is on the same end of the pitch.
- Non-verbal training (hand signals) is allowed at any time.
- Verbal coaching can consist of a few words and/or short phrases (conversations are not allowed)
- Coaches may not speak to their player when the player leaves the court for any reason.
- Penalties and fines will continue to apply for abuse or misuse of previous coach status.
Depending on where one stands with allowing training, there are very different points of view.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has welcomed this decision as he has brazenly committed several code violations by receiving training from his father. Rafa has welcomed this test as has Serena’s former coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who is now also Simona Halep’s full-time coach.
Mouratoglou had openly admitted to making hand signals to Serena during her final against Osaka at the 2018 US Open, where Serena received a one-point penalty. Serena, although he didn’t notice her signs. Former WTA player and ESPN commentator Pam Shriver says: “It’s time for this, seeing how they were having a hard time enforcing the no training rule, why not?” There are also many who are against this thought process, like Jim Courier and possibly Federer to name a few.
In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons why allowing on-pitch training is not a great idea. First of all, from the beginning, tennis had always been about individuality. A player’s brain and thought process along with their physical and hitting skills stand out brilliantly as a one man/woman effort.
Problem solving is very important in this sport, especially when everyone can hit the same forehands, backhands and serves. I sometimes tell players that tennis is like a physical game of chess. You have to discover the weaknesses of the opponent as you face him and be able to fix the problems.
As a professional player, you must possess this trait. From my point of view, that’s what makes tennis so unique. Second, this coaching rule will give an undue advantage to the top or highest-ranked players, as they can hire top-tier coaches.
In 1999, when the ATP experimented with on-court training, Brad Gilbert is said to have trained Agassi to win three straight titles. That was soon discarded. Some of these lower ranked players travel alone and this becomes quite unfair to them. Lower ranked players will not only have to compete against a higher ranked player, but they will also have to compete against their trainers.
The ATP claims that this new coach test can bring more interest and excitement to the sport. The WTA tour experimented with coaching in 2008-2009. It didn’t seem to have much of an impact at the time. Whether this will add excitement remains to be seen.
USTA currently allows training for its junior tournaments when players split sets. I think it’s a good rule where the coaches can help some of the youngsters to think and strategize. While I am against training on the ATP tour, I think training should be allowed for junior players.
Young people are in the developmental stages where they have a lot to learn about strategies and problem solving. This will help develop young people in a healthy way so that when they reach ATP and WTA levels, they can be individualistic and independent thinkers.