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The US Open now lets coaches talk to players—and the players are yelling back
Something about tennis makes players want to scream—often, it turns out, at the people who are trying to help them win.
Published Aug 31, 2023
NEW YORK (AP) — Something about tennis makes players want to scream. Often, it turns out, at the people who are trying to help them win.
Everywhere you look at the US Open, wayward shots are leaving Grand Slam champions such as Andy Murray or highly seeded contenders like Andrey Rublev in what appears to be a fit of rage directed at coaches—and that happens even when they are winning.
They're not necessarily mad at their coaches. Usually, anyway. They're frustrated by their sport.
"I would generally think that tennis drives people crazy," said 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, a 27-year-old Russian. "When I say ‘people,' tennis players drive themselves crazy."
They'll show it by responding to their own mistakes by yelling toward the seats where members of their team are sitting. It's unclear whether they're seeking a response—coaching during Grand Slam matches wasn't even allowed until last year, so most players are used to going it alone—or just need to vent at someone.
"When those frustrations happen, it's just like built-up tension," said 2022 French Open finalist Coco Gauff, a 19-year-old American who recently added veteran coach Brad Gilbert to her crew. "Sometimes it's not even directed at my team. My team knows that some of the things I say isn't directed at them."
Same with No. 8 seed Rublev, who insists that even though he's yelling toward the coach, it's never AT the coach.
"No, I'm complaining to my team, like, how stupid I am," the Russian said.
It's the sort of thing rarely seen in team sports. NBA star Stephen Curry doesn't miss a shot and then yell at coach Steve Kerr on the Golden State Warriors' bench. If NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes throws an interception, his response isn't to holler at Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
And when a player actually is seen yelling at a coach, such as Tom Brady's blowup with Josh McDaniels when both were with the New England Patriots in 2017, the episode immediately goes viral and provides days of fodder for sports talk shows.
In tennis, it's part of the game. Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach and a Hall of Fame player himself, doesn't care if the rants are targeted at him.
"He's yelling at all of us," Lendl said.
At least it's no longer a one-way conversation. Starting with last year's US Open, coaches can speak to their players in short phrases while at the same end of the court. Before that, all coaches could do within the rules was sit there and listen, almost as if being scolded.
When Murray is upset about something now, Lendl and other members of their group—now allowed to watch video and study stats on a tablet during matches in New York—can try to help.
"Sometimes you're sort of speaking or shouting in that direction. Obviously, it's not that comfortable for the people in there, because they weren't allowed to say anything," Murray said, "whereas now you're able to have more of a dialogue, which ... in those situations is probably easier."
Just one problem.
"It's very difficult to understand what they're saying, no matter how close you are," Lendl said. "There is too much noise, so 90% of the time we don't know what they're saying."
That's why Novak Djokovic would like to expand the coaching rules. The current interaction, while improved, still doesn't allow player and coach to huddle like during a timeout in team sports.
"So we have to sometimes raise our voice in order for our team to hear us, or for us to hear them, because otherwise we have to communicate with signs or signals," Djokovic said. "It's louder out on the court."
Medvedev suspects part of the reason players feel they can yell in tennis is because they hire the coaches. There's no general manager or team owner making that decision and empowering the coach.
"And the coach must be much stricter, because he has to control the team. He doesn't have to control only one player," Medvedev said. "He has to always show who is the boss in control. ... Whereas in tennis, you don't want this, because then you're going to put the player down and it's not going to be good."
Rublev's moods can swing at any time. A fist pump after a backhand down the line is quickly followed by a mini-meltdown when the next one hits the net.
Like Medvedev, he believes the ups and downs of tennis, when players feel unbeatable one day and unprepared the next, make it hard to always stay under control.
"It's not easy when you're always with yourself alone, and every day is the same and you have to face those things," Rublev said, "and then when you are mentally more down, you explode sometimes."