Friday, October 23, 2009

Can we finally get rid of courtside coaching?

I’ve always maintained that courtside coaching in tennis was a spectacularly bad idea. It has offended me at a lot of levels. For a start, I do not believe that all sports are created equal. An idea that may work well in one sport (such as mid-game coaching during a basketball match), simply may not translate well into another. Can you imagine a pair of figure skaters interrupting their routine to ask the coach if they should do a triple flip? Can a diver pause mid-dive to ask his coach if his feet are perfectly aligned?

So when women’s tennis grabbed hold of the lame-brained idea of allowing courtside coaching, I honestly hoped that it was just a matter of time before it blew up in Billy Jean King’s face. Apparently courtside coaching was her brain fart, intended to lend excitement to tennis coverage on TV.

I dislike courtside coaching because it disrespects the ability of most tennis players to figure things out for themselves. The Williams sisters have never resorted to courtside coaching. I've never seen Amelie Mauresmo ask anyone how to hit her awesome backhand. And I can only hope that the newly resurgent Kim Clijsters never ever resorts to this foolishness.

But players like Maria Sharapova continue to reach out to their coaches for mid-match guidance. I suspect that this is because her only strategy is to hit the ball really really hard while screaming as if Godzilla was on the other side of the court. Thus far, the only people who have benefited from this retarded idea was not the TV audience as intended, but a select group of mentally-challenged tennis players. No offense to Sharapova.

Now comes word that Caroline Wozniacki has been caught up in an allegation of unfair coaching and is currently facing an investigation by the Tennis Integrity Unit after she was overheard being instructed by her father/coach, Piotr Wozniacki, to retire in her first round match against Anne Kremer at the Luxembourg Open. At the time, Wozniacki was up 3-0 up in the second set. She had already won the first at 7-5.

Ms. Wozniacki eventually retired when the score was 5-0 in the second set. She claimed a hamstring injury, the same injury her father had apparently predicted would prevent her from playing in the next round. Unfortunately for him, his comments (spoken in Polish) were not only picked up by microphones but were also translated by viewers, and resulted in a financial windfall for gamblers who suddenly decided to bet on Kremer.

And just like that his daughter is in trouble with the Tennis Integrity Unit. This organization was established in 2007 following allegations of match-fixing by Davydenko. Although he was eventually cleared, the recommendation was that tennis needed a regulatory body that would investigate charges of “integrity violations”, such as drug use, match fixing, and illegal coaching.

Ms. Wozniacki has since attempted to put an interesting spin on her motives for retiring early. She is now claiming a form of altruism, saying, “I could possibly have finished the match, but felt there was no way I could get ready for the second round on Thursday, so I chose the sporting way and let her go through.” Wozniacki claimed further selflessness when she pointed out that Kremer was playing on her home turf.

I must admit that the cynical side of me wondered if that addendum should be credited to her father or her attorneys. After all, the US open finalist suddenly needs to salvage her career.

In the meantime, I remain hopeful that this incident once and for all results in the banning of courtside coaching (which only belongs in Davis or Fed Cup). There is, in my opinion, a huge chasm between a player looking towards her coach for non-verbal support, and a player literally being told what to do to win a match. Tennis is a mental sport. It requires psychological courage. To resort to literal spoon-feeding misses the whole point of sports intelligence. And the saddest part is that Caroline Wozniacki, the 2009 US open finalist, is not at all lacking in this quality.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Extremely well said. It makes the women look pathetic.