If you’ve watched tennis for any extended period of time, particularly outside of the main grand slam events, then you might have seen the moments when coaches come on court to have a chat to the players mid-match. It only happens on the women’s tour, and isn’t at every event, nor does every player choose to do such a thing, so it can be a blink and you’ll miss it type of event.
I’ve railed against this in the past, not because I don’t find it interesting to hear the exchanges - granted they are often in other languages, but even seeing the body language can be fascinating - but because it’s so very specifically geared towards the women. I’ve heard others talk about it and it’s often felt like, as the men don’t have on-court coaching, that it’s a sign that women can’t cope with the mental stresses of the game. A form of sexism, I suppose.
Well, after a particularly good episode of The Tennis Podcast, I am now far better educated than that! It turns out it’s not a sexist thing at all, it’s actually an improvement brought into the game that the WTA are blazing a trail with, pushing to get others to join in the fun.
David: It was 2008, Larry Scott was in power at the WTA at the time, he was a pretty innovative guy… he brought this on board, he felt that it was going to open up the communications channels for spectators to get a real insight into what goes on and, you look at other sports, boxing, they mike up the corner men talking to boxers in between rounds. They do the same with the Formula One drivers, you can hear the exchanges between the driver and the pit lane. We’ve not got that in tennis, until this came in. That just didn’t exist.
Catherine: And yet, tennis has these built in periods of reflection for the player, where you see them sat at the change of ends, you get to gaze into their eyes and you’re aware that they have this minute and a half to chew over in their mind what’s happening out there, and yet it’s so frustrating because you can’t know what’s going on.
The conversation continues with David and Catherine discussing the problems that are associated with the coaching situation: that you can’t always understand what is being said, that it’s not always the right person that dashes on court, and that the hit and miss nature of its adoption means it can be quite confusing. But when it does happen, it’s definitely worth watching. I particularly enjoy seeing Darren Cahill, who is currently coaching a very temperamental Simona Halep, because his optimistic and calming ways are wonderful. I could do with some of that in my life.
So, I have re-assessed the on-court coaching situation and now, just like with three-set matches, I wish the men’s tournaments would also come on board.