Debate has raged since the US Open women’s final about how to treat the issue of coaching.
The match has become infamous due to Serena Williams’ anger at receiving a series of code violations that led to her being docked an entire game during her 6-2 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka.
The moment that sparked the whole furore was when chair umpire Carlos Ramos spotted Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou in the stands making a hand signal, which prompted him to issue Williams with the first of those codes violations.
Williams took umbrage with the ruling, accusing Ramos of “attacking my character”.
Opinions vary widely within the sport as to how Ramos should have handled the situation.
Some believe he could have issued Williams with a “soft” warning before hitting her with a code violation. Others believe he should have let it slide altogether. Others have applauded him for implementing the rules where other umpires have not. Many have lamented that very inconsistency.
The issue has also raised the question: should coaching from the stands eventually be permitted?
Mouratoglou admitted to coaching Williams in that moment, but added that it was rife in the game.
“Patrick’s right – all coaches signal,” former world No.4 Jelena Dokic told Tennismash.
“I’ve gotten warnings in the past for my own coaches, because they were signalling. Half of the time I didn’t even see them. Half the time I did. And I said ‘look, just stop doing it’ (because) I’m getting warnings or a code violation. I’ve gotten in doubles when my partner’s coach was trying to show us (signals).
“People are now complaining, ‘oh everyone does it’. But the rules are there. So now we’re bringing it up, but these rules have been there for years and no one brought it up.”
Sam Stosur agrees.
“We know that’s the rule, but now because this has happened it’s an issue? I kind of find it a bit silly that we could have this debate now whether you have coaching or don’t have coaching because of this incident,” she said.
“There are definitely inconsistencies sometimes with the umpires, knowing that the coaching is happening, or then knowing and calling you out on it. (That) probably is the inconsistent thing.
“But I don’t think in the final was the time or place to try and debate that.”
Stosur and Dokic both believe the inconsistencies in applying coaching violations exist because of the opaque nature of the rules in this area.
“The problem is, what is coaching? Is saying ‘hit to her forehand’ coaching? Yes, you would say so. But is also ‘come on, that’s the way’? That could also be saying ‘what a great point’. It’s so blurred what is actual coaching and what’s not,” Stosur said.
“I think in a lot of ways if you speak English you’re at a disadvantage, because it’s obviously a lot easier to police – pretty much everyone on tour can speak English.”
Added Dokic: “(You’ve got some) coaches who are yelling out to their players in different languages. I’ve also been a part of that where the players who were playing me got warnings because the umpires or the linespeople understood it.
“So where do you draw a line? How do you figure it out? What’s signalling and what’s not? It’s not always easy. I think you’re always going to have inconsistencies.”
Dokic believes there is no room for middle ground on coaching.
Despite being a self-confessed “traditionalist” who grew up learning and playing the game in an era where coaching was not allowed in any shape or form, she admits concepts like the WTA’s on-court coaching rule are interesting for fans and beneficial for commentators.
“I would either have no coaching at all – no on-court coaching, no signalling (from the stands), nothing. Or I would make it where you actually have full coaching – where you can signal, you can show, you can talk,” she said.
“I would even try out a concept – and this is a little bit out there, but you won’t know until you try it – where I would put coaches on the benches. Like Fed Cup, Davis Cup and Laver Cup. I would try that as well. Because I think every time we have it in those, it’s very interesting.”
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