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ATP Tour announces "off-court coaching" trial during second half of season, including at US Open
Coaches must remain in their designated seats, and verbal coaching is allowed—when the player is on the same side of the court as his coach.
Published Jun 21, 2022
WATCH: In professional tennis, the debate about coaching has never gone away
The line between encouragement and coaching has been blurred for some time in men's tennis, with chair umpires often hesitant to call out what appears to be obvious communication between player and coach. Opponents complain when they see it happening against them; observers tweet when it happens on TV (either in favor or disapproval); nobody is really happy, because enforcement is relatively non-existent.
Now, we have a change. And depending on your point of view, perhaps a long overdue one.
On Tuesday, the ATP Tour announced that "off-court coaching" will be permitted on a trial basis, over the second half of the 2022 season, following Wimbledon and—notably—including the US Open.
If the key noun is trial, the key adjective is off-court. For unlike mid-match coaching on the WTA Tour, where coaches can come down to court to speak with their player at designated junctures, the ATP version maintains a physical separation between player and coach.
That said, there remains a level of subjectivity given how the rules are spelled out. Under these "conditions," off-court coaching will be allowed:
- Coaches must sit in the tournament’s designated coach seats
- Coaching (verbal and non-verbal) is allowed only if it does not interrupt play or create any hindrance to the opponent
- Verbal coaching is permitted only when the player is at the same end of the court
- Non-verbal coaching (hand signals) is permitted at any time
- Verbal coaching may consist of a few words and/or short phrases (no conversations are permitted)
- Coaches may not speak to their player when the player leaves the court for any reason
- Penalties and fines will still apply for abuse or misuse of the above coaching conditions
The ATP has dabbled in off-court coaching before, at the NextGen ATP Finals, where players were allowed to use headsets to communicate with their coaches during changeovers. While this evolution of the experiment removes that technology from the equation, it gives far more leniency to the player and their coach.
"The trial aims to create additional points of intrigue and insight to enhance the fan experience," wrote the ATP Staff, and it will be determined after the trial if off-court coaching will continue into 2023.
Verbal coaching may consist of a few words and/or short phrases (no conversations are permitted)
Reaction to the announcement on social media was widespread, though the New York Times' Christopher Clarey didn't mince words: