On-court coaching trial to continue

On-court coaching trial to continue

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour this week announced that it is extending its http://www.anaivanovic.com/index.php?path=news&tablepage=12&detailpage=394
" >on-court coaching trial. It will feature at three tournaments during autumn and Ana is scheduled to appear in them all.

On-court coaching will be in place at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, the Zurich Open and the Generali Ladies Linz, with two major alterations. Firstly, players will only be allowed to call for their coaches at the end of sets and while an opponent is receiving treatment or taking a bathroom break – consultation during changeovers is no longer permitted. Secondly, the dialogue between player and coach will be transmitted live to television viewers, rather than via a tape-delay.

Players took advantage of on-court coaching in over 70 per cent of singles, doubles and qualifying matches during the two US Open Series events at which it debuted, but only seven of the highest 20 ranked players that competed in either tournament used it.

Herein lies the quandary for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour: the system is designed to enhance the experience for television viewers; it is the top players that are televised most often, but most of them rejected it. Ana, who won Montreal without ever enlisting David Taylor’s help, is keen to preserve the privacy of the player-coach relationship. “I want to be independent on the court,” she said.

Though one of the system’s biggest fans, Martin Hingis, was unable to turn around the Rogers Cup final against Ana with the help of her mother, Melanie Molitor, there were several notable successes of on-court coaching, none more so than Daniela Hantuchova in New Haven. The Slovakian called for her coach, Angel Gimenez, while trailing 4-3 in the final set of her first round match against Anna-Lena Groenefeld. After consulting with the Spaniard, she reeled off the final three games and won the match.

Several figures within tennis, such as Andy Roddick, voiced their concerns that the system could place lower ranked players at a disadvantage because often they cannot afford to travel with coaches. However, the statistics dispel this fear: it was used proportionally more during qualifying than in main draw matches. In New Haven qualifying, for example, 85 per cent of matches featured on-court coaching. On the flip side, only two of the eight singles semi-finalists in Montreal and New Haven used coaches.

By definition those playing in qualifying are worse players, so giving them the opportunity to use coaches could result in higher quality tennis. Tour legend Martina Navratilova certainly believes the system could improve the standard of play. “I think it will make for better tennis and more intrigue,” she said.

Indeed there appears to be an emphasis on improving the quality of play rather than giving fans an insight into tactical discussions. Coaches are not obliged to give advice in English, so their instruction is incomprehensible to the majority of television viewers.

According to the Tour, feedback from fans and broadcasters has been very positive. A poll on this website, meanwhile, showed that 37 per cent of people support the system and 63 per cent are opposed.

While the reception to on-court coaching was mixed, the year’s other big innovation, automatic line-calling system Hawk-Eye, has been a huge success. It will continue to be used but, most likely because of financial restraints, it will only appear at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow and the Sony Ericsson Championships in Madrid.

Another change announced by the Tour is the introduction of no-ad scoring in doubles, which means that the winners of the deuce point wins the game. It is being tested at this week’s FORTIS Championships in Luxembourg. Ana did not enter the doubles competition there and is not competing in either of the other two tournaments at which the scoring system is being trialled.

Evaluation of both on-court coaching and the doubles scoring test will take place during and after the events and a decision as to the next steps in both areas will be made by the Tour later this year.

How the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s top 20 singles players (as of 25 September) reacted to the on-court coaching trial in Montreal and New Haven:

1 Amelie Mauresmo – did not use
2 Justine Henin-Hardenne – did not use
3 Maria Sharapova – did not play in either tournament
4 Svetlana Kuznetsova – used five times in seven matches in Montreal and New Haven
5 Kim Clijsters – did not use
6 Elena Dementieva – did not use
7 Nadia Petrova – used once in one match in Montreal; did not use in New Haven
8 Martina Hingis – used five times in five matches in Montreal
9 Patty Schnyder – used once in one match in New Haven
10 Nicole Vaidisova – did not use
11 Dinara Safina – did not use
12 Lindsay Davenport – used once in four matches in New Haven
13 Anastasia Myskina – did not use
14 Francesca Schiavone – did not use
15 Ana Ivanovic – did not use
16 Jelena Jankovic – did not use
17 Anna-Lena Groenefeld – used three times in two matches in New Haven
18 Mary Pierce – did not play in either tournament
19 Daniela Hantuchova – used eight times in two matches in New Haven
20 Na Li – did not use

By Gavin Versi

Photo: Getty Images