WATCH: Alcaraz stormed to his first Grand Slam title at the US Open with help from coach and mentor Juan Carlos Ferrero.

This summer, tennis entered a new era so quietly that you may not have noticed unless you had the sound on your television set turned all the way up.

If you did, you could have heard Rafael Nadal, 18-year veteran of the tour, sit down before his opening match in Cincinnati and ask the chair umpire if coaching was allowed. You also could have heard, later in the same tournament, Apostolos Tsitsipas freely giving advice to his son Stefanos during his semifinal with Daniil Medvedev. Eight months earlier, when the Greek and the Russian met at the Australian Open, Apostolos’s sotto voce tips had driven Medvedev into a fit of screaming rage. In Cincy, though, there was nothing he could say or do about it. What was illegal in January was legal in August.

So began the on-court coaching era in tennis. The practice had long been banned, in accordance with this individualistic sport’s belief that players “figure it out for themselves.” Starting a decade ago, the WTA allowed coaches to visit players once a set during changeovers. But this year, after Wimbledon, a uniform set of rules went into effect that permitted coaching teams to offer advice or use signals, as unobtrusively as possible.

The US Open was the first Grand Slam event played under the new rules, and they were met with little resistance or controversy. We already knew that coaching teams urge their players on during matches; now we could hear a bit of what they were saying. Little of what came through was particularly memorable, at least to me. The only thing that sticks in my mind from the fortnight in New York is the word “Kigs.” That’s what the many members of Nick Kyrgios’s team call him, over and over and over, during his matches. “Let’s go, Kigs!” “Right here, Kigs!” “That’s it, Kigs!” No wonder he’s always hollering at them to come up with something better.


Restricted to generic cheers at Wimbledon, Team Kyrgios was able to deliver more precise advice to the Aussie at the US Open; did they take advantage?

Restricted to generic cheers at Wimbledon, Team Kyrgios was able to deliver more precise advice to the Aussie at the US Open; did they take advantage?

More important than what was actually said, though, was the fact that coaches were allowed to say it. For the first time, we didn’t have to wonder or worry about whether a player was receiving illegal coaching advice. As a viewer, I found that surprisingly liberating and relaxing. It was like taking away a distraction that I hadn’t fully realized was there in the first place. With the rule eliminated, tennis was a little easier to watch; the coaches talked, the players listened, the match went on.

What about the reason for the rule in the first place, that players should make their own adjustments and find their own solutions, without outside help? I’ve never been a hardcore adherent of that philosophy, for a few reasons.

First, contrary to what you hear on TV, there is coaching in tennis. Lots of it. College players are coached, high school players are coached, recreational league players are coached, and the pros are coached in Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup. The biggest appeal of the sport’s most successful new event, Laver Cup, is hearing the players coach each other. All of those formats qualify as tennis.

Second, even when the pros weren’t allowed to be coached in matches, they were getting advice the other 22 hours of the day. In tennis, players and coaches travel the world together, practice together, do dinner together; it can be a 24/7 experience for 11 months a year. During his rise to No. 1, Carlos Alcaraz has been joined at the hip with his full-time mentor, former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

All of that said, I do value the idea that, at the highest level, tennis players find their own solutions. It’s satisfying to root for athletes who do it all; who think up their own tactics and make their own mid-match adjustments, without being programmed to run a certain play by a person sitting on the sidelines. I also wouldn’t want to see coaching in tennis become more obvious and obtrusive as times goes on. No coaches sitting on the court mapping out every serve and forehand, and no elaborate hand signals from the bleachers, please, like we see in baseball. I’m fine with the muffled approach the sport is using now.

For me, it’s a choice. Which do I want more: To not have to worry about whether players are being illegally coached? Or to believe that players are figuring it all out for themselves?

This may change as the new rules evolve, but judging by the way I felt while watching this year’s US Open, I’m OK with the new rule. Watching Alcaraz get advice from his team for two weeks in New York didn’t make me think any less of him when he won the tournament. How about you?