Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pre-U.S. Open rant: Telling women what to do

My big takeway from the Serena Williams/Simona Halep Cincinnati final wasn't necessarily Williams' dominance and her continued ability to pull victory from inconsistent play. We already knew about that.
More than anything, the match made me realize just how ridiculous on-court coaching is -- on at least three levels. Let's review them now:

Level One
So Darren Cahill is the Adidas player development couch, and he was available to Halep during changeovers for on-court coaching. Cahill is also a commentator for ESPN at times, along with Brad Gilbert and Mary Jo Fernandez. Gilbert says something about how surprised he is that Serena's opponents never change where they stand to receive, which is a valid point. But he and Fernandez discuss this for about a minute. Set ends (to Serena), at which time Halep calls Cahill down for a chat. Among the advice he gives her? Vary your return position during the Williams serve.
OK, so that's not conspiracy level or anything like that. And it could be a coincidence -- that's a good piece of advice I've heard before. But it illustrates one problem with this on-court coaching. In theory, Cahill can use his years of expertise, and tap Gilbert, and maybe throw in a McEnroe. He could even have complete access to instant stats online OF THE VERY MATCH THEY'RE PLAYING. One of the things that's special about tennis is that it's like a mental puzzle that the player has to figure out. Obviously, on-court coaching takes away from this and even allows a coach to walk a player through the match using all kinds of tools. You can't call it cheating, because now it's part of the rules, but it does beg another level of questions such as

Level Two
'Why just women?' And why not the majors? Here's why. It's not really a part of tennis, and shouldn't be a part of tennis. And the fact that it's only done for women is insulting. It says, "Oh, lord, look at these poor girls out there. How can anyone expect these girls to figure any of this out by themselves?" (insert sad-face emoji)
If the answer is that it's to draw fans to tennis, that's nonsense. In sports, watching someone being coached is usually not the memorable part. Unless you're Alison Riske and your boyfriend/coach tells you to STFU. (Quick aside: That's why that dynamic almost never works.) Otherwise, not entertaining at all. So the only reason left to limit this to women players is the idea that they need it the most. Nice. Nice.

Level Three
On-court coaching illegal in your average league play. Some kid's mother yelled at me one day when I was playing against her daughter because I was using my phone during a changeover. I was calling my job to tell them I was running late (because tennis, you guys), but she said, and I quote, based on my memory from probably six to eight years ago, "You could be calling your coach."
!??
That was laughable on some other sublevels, but the fact is that I can't get coached, or phone a friend, or get any other lifelines outside of my own head during a match in my league tennis. And rec players need help more than anyone else! Some real talk: The only things rec players know for sure is how to blow $200 on a racquet because it's Roger Federer's stick.
Look, if Maria Sharapova, a professional who has been playing her whole life, has more need of a coach on court than us hacks, we got a problem. Oh, what? The stakes are higher for her? True. The stakes are also higher for professional male players, but they don't get to flag their coaches. Heck, Boris Becker makes a gesture in Novak Djokovic's general direction, and everyone loses their damn mind. I bust out my cell phone, and my opponent's mother is ready to brain me with the backup racquet. Halep calls Cahill over, and everyone's like, "Good call. Solid advice."
Yah. Totally makes sense.


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