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Serena Williams' coach campaigns for rule change to allow on-court coaching

Simon Briggs
Serena Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou has released a  document laying out why players should be able to receive on-court guidance during matches - REUTERS

As administrators prepare for a summit next week on the hot topic of coaching in tennis, Serena Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou has released a lengthy document explaining why he feels it should be normal for players to receive guidance during matches.

Mouratoglou started his argument by suggesting that that the Williams flashpoint during the US Open women’s final has brought the issue to a head. “It is a very basic truth that the vast majority of tennis coaches are actually coaching on court,” he said, “despite the rules.

“It is time for tennis leaders to amend the status of coaching ... To attract new people [to tennis], you need to get them emotionally involved. You want spectators and TV viewers to have opinions about the players - and the coaches - and to know who they like and who they don’t. Watching the interactions between players and coaches is a very good way of achieving this.

“Emotions run high when coaches talk to their players during matches. Sometimes the players don’t like to hear what their coaches are saying, but this all adds to the drama.”

As Mouratoglou’s briefing also pointed out, tennis is unique among the major sports in its insistence that players must not be given direction during matches - with the exception of team competitions such as the Davis Cup or the lengthy trial of on-court coaching, allowed once per set, that has been running since 2009 on the women’s tour.

Opinion is now divided on whether this uniqueness is either a useful point of difference or a sign that tennis is not moving with the times. Next week’s summit, which will coincide with the WTA Finals in Singapore, is likely to be finely balanced. The new-world powers of the WTA, the US Open and the Australian Open are expected to support coaching during matches, in whatever form that might take, while more traditional views are likely to be expressed by the ATP, Wimbledon and the French Open.

This could leave the International Tennis Federation as swing voters. And as ITF president David Haggerty was supported by three of the four slams in his recent move to remodel the Davis Cup, he may be reluctant to pick a side.

To return to Mouratoglou, he set off a controversial chain of events on the evening of the US Open women’s final when he gestured Williams to come to the net more often against her dominant opponent Naomi Osaka. As a result, Williams received a code violation from disciplinarian umpire Carlos Ramos.

Since then, Williams has queried why he would have been trying to direct her in the first place. “We’ve never had signals,” she told an Australian TV interviewer. Such is the fall-out from Williams’s three code-violation penalties, and her subsequent tirades, that some have queried whether she will even continue working with Mouratoglou when she returns from a lengthy break in January.