WIMBLEDON, England — As in many sports, tennis has its share of well-known coaches. Unlike in other sports, tennis does not always allow them to coach.
Indeed, at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic can’t get any sort of instructions from Goran Ivanisevic at Centre Court during the men’s semifinals on Friday.
No other players and coaches were supposed to be communicating while matches were happening, either, whether it was Simona Halep with Patrick Mouratoglou, Andy Murray with Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal with Carlos Moya or anyone else in the women’s or men’s singles brackets.
While the WTA women’s tour tried various forms of in-match coaching over the past decade-plus — allowing, and broadcasting, face-to-face conversations during changeovers, for example — the ATP men’s tour has stayed away from it at its main tournaments other than a brief tryout in the late 1990s (there have been test runs involving chats through headsets at a season-ending event for younger players).
And coaching during Grand Slam matches has been forbidden.
Once play at the All England Club wraps up Sunday, the ATP will follow the WTA’s lead and open a trial run over the rest of this year to permit limited interaction between the folks on the court and their employees in the stands. That means coaches will be able to offer help to women and men at the last major of 2022, the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 29 in New York.
“It’s exciting for coaches because now, all of a sudden, the stuff and strategy you talk about before matches, you can talk about during matches. You can tweak things. If things aren’t going well, you can get a chance to look at Plan B or C,” said Brad Gilbert, a former player who reached No. 4 in the rankings and a coach for Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and others.
“Any innovation is good,” added Gilbert, at Wimbledon for ESPN. “And before you say something isn’t good, you need to see it and see how it plays out.”
The ATP’s announcement that coaching is coming opened a debate in the sport. There are those who lobby for change to increase fan interest and those who say this sort of thing goes against the basic one-on-one, all-alone element of tennis.
Djokovic is one player, and French Open runner-up Casper Ruud is another, who said they see merit in both of those stances.
“I admire (the ATP) for trying something new,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway who has been coached by his father, former pro Christian. “At the same time, it’s the beauty of our sport that we have to figure out the game and everything ourselves.”
A key moment in the conversation around coaching in tennis came during the 2018 U.S. Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, when Mouratoglou — then working with Williams — was seen by the chair umpire, and later acknowledged, giving hand signals from his seat. Mouratoglou has been a strong voice in favor of allowing coaching during matches.
There are those, such as 32nd-ranked American Tommy Paul, who recognize just how much against-the-rules coaching is going on these days.
“It would only be a mistake if people weren’t already doing it,” said Paul, who reached the fourth round in his debut at the All England Club. “I don’t want there to be coaching, per se. I don’t think that’s the way the sport is supposed to be. But people do it so much that it’s kind of normal now.”
Or as three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka summed up the situation: “It’s not something completely new. It’s just something that’s going to be allowed.”