Tennis: by authorizing coaching from the stands, the ATP could “create an imbalance” between players

A change that is not unanimous. The ATP announced on Tuesday June 21 that it will allow coaches to coach their players from the stands during matches. The measure will be tested from July 11 until the end of the season, during the Masters organized in November in Turin. She concerns 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. Thus, 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: exchanges will only be accepted 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 way or not punish him”, 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 is regularly criticized by his opponents, who accuse 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’s the little details that decide whether you win or not. This will create an imbalance during the matches”, slices the player Enzo Couacaud, “disappointed” by the announcement of the ATP.

“We see players who have analytical skills when changing sides. They 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.

Could this distort the very essence of tennis? “Yes, replies Enzo Couacaud, 207th player in the world. Today, by paying a coach, sometimes super expensive because he is a former top 5 or top 10 in the world, he will give him the keys.

“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 means. It should be such a player against such a 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, this test even constitutes an admission of weakness of the ATP. “I have the impression that the ATP 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. “On tries more and more to change the rules of tennis, the coaching, the toilet break, the 25 seconds on serve, he continues. The ATP does not arrive not to enforce the instructions to the best, 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 the same test in certain tournaments as early as 2020. “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 trial will be subject to a collective evaluation at the end of the 2022 season, in order to define the possibility of including coaching off the pitch in the following seasons.

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