Saturday, August 19, 2006

Think fast?

This summer, a few events will allow something new. If a player is in a bind, or is just lonely, perhaps, they can call for on-court coaching. The powers that be theorize that this will make tennis more interesting.
The ATP and WTA has some very interesting ideas about how to boost interest. First, throwing in a ‘super tiebreak’ in place of a third set in doubles, because why on earth would a tennis fan want to see more tennis in a match? After two sets, it’s boring as hell, the TPTB seems to think. Let’s wrap this up.
And now this on-court coaching nonsense. What’s more interesting to watch?:

Scenario A: A player is down a set and a break, and lumbers over to his chair at changeover. He buries his head in his towel, and realizes that he has to try to draw his opponent to the net. He employs this strategy, and bam! he’s tied the match up.
Scenario B: A player is down a set and a break, and lumbers over to his chair at changeover. He tells the umpire he needs his coach, stat! and some balding fat guy comes running down and tells him to watch the ball and move his feet, and to pick on his opponent’s backhand, and to get into net and to put away the overheads and above all, to stay positive. The player goes out on the court, and can't remember anything his coach just said. Moreover, he realizes that he never even got anything to drink.

Or ...:
Scenario C: A player is down a set and a break, and lumbers over to his chair at changeover. He tells the umpire he needs his coach, stat! and some balding fat guy with a temper (channeling Maria Sharapova's dad here for some reason) who begins raging at his guy, with mikes on, and making derogatory comments about his guy's opponent, and throws in some helpful advice about beating him. Well, the opponent can hear it, too. Oops.

For crying out loud, tennis fans like tennis. They like the scoring and they like the gladiator-like atmosphere. We don’t want to see players getting Cliff-notes from their coach. Part of the great thing about tennis is that you’re on your own, and if you can’t see the game unfolding before your own eyes, then it’s your problem. And what’s so interesting about seeing a coach and a player conferring on the sideline? How will that make tennis more exciting? It’s a part of Davis Cup and World Team Tennis, but have you noticed that when the coaching begins, networks go to commercial? There’s a reason for that.
The tennis bigwigs, as usual, seems to have this all wrong. It looks it’s trying to glean elements of more popular sports in order to draw the masses. The truth is that tennis will never be football in America. Changing the rules won’t make it so, either. If you’re not a fan, you’re not a fan.
The ATP and WTA should be working together to shorten the season, so that the top players will play more often. That seems to be the outstanding issue where tennis popularity is concerned.


Anonymous said...

I like your version of what a coach will say during that brief opportunity to coach. What few people realize (and few coaches admit) is that coaching in tennis usually does more harm than good. What CAN you tell a player in 30 seconds that won't just confuse and WILL do some good?

That isn't like football, where the defense gets coaching on the sidelines while the offense in on the field. It isn't like basketball, where the coach can yell instructions from the sidelines continuously. He can pull a player out for coaching on the bench and then send him back in.

But you can't do that in tennis. What's more, even in these sports, coaching during the heat of battle often does little good, especially when it comes during a time-out. They are zhombies who can hardly focus at that moment. Those players turn right around and go back out there all in blur, because the coach rattled off ten things at them, ten things that never really sunk in, ten things they've completely forgotten by the time play resumes.

Yes, there are times when I would have killed for a chance to clue a player or doubles team in on something or for a chance to talk to them and fire them up with a verbal kick in the butt, but those times are rare. A smart coach says little during coaching time-outs except things designed to evoke a useful emotional response -- for confidence, greater effort, or whatever.

But why should pro tennis players need a coach to keep them bucked up and intense? And why shouldn't tennis test a player's ability to think for himself?

Frankly, I think some of the push for coaching comes from coaches (and parents?) who want to be more visible and catch some limelight.

Naf said...

Agreed. I hadn't really thought about coaches using the opportunity to get some spotlight, although it makes sense. It's worked for Brad Gilbert.
Something I forgot to mention before: Seems like taking every chance you get (once a set and between sets) to call on your coach shows a weakness to your opponent. Does a player want to be known as the one who always needs a crutch? I do hate this idea, but it seems unlikely to me that it'll be used.