Wimbledon seeks to block in-match coaching at Grand Slam events

Tennis


Wimbledon will block any move to legalize in-match coaching at the majors when the Grand Slam board meets to discuss modernizing the game next week.

A series of changes will be discussed by representatives of the All England Club, the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open at a London hotel during the ATP Finals, in what has been described as an “important” meeting for a sport that has sometimes been seen as resistant to change.

The agenda is relatively radical and includes shot clocks, restricted warm-up time, no lets, toilet break frequency limits, and prize money for first-round retirees.

It appears likely that there will be general support for making matches more efficient and appealing to fans and the media, but the argument for coaching could be a point of contention.

“Allowing coaching is a fundamental change to the sport and would be a really big decision for tennis,” Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis told ESPN. “I’m not aware of any evidence of the WTA allowing it making any difference to the attractiveness of their Tour.

“We are philosophically very against. We believe it is a gladiatorial sport, an individual sport; you go on court and the whole premise of tennis is that you are on your own. That is one of the beauties of tennis compared to most, if not every other sport.

“For those that say it’s difficult to police coaching at the moment and this would solve it — we say it doesn’t solve anything at all; it creates different issues. We will be pretty challenging and dogmatic on our views on coaching.”

The US Open, as a trial, allowed coaching from the stands during its junior tournament this year. The French Tennis Federation told ESPN that it and the Australian Open are also looking to experiment.

Coaches were allowed to give advice at the end of each set to players in the 21-and-under ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan last week, too.

French Tennis Federation director Christophe Fagniez told ESPN that he wants the board to ask itself whether allowing coaching during matches would harm tennis and debate the principle of it.

Any significant rule changes, however, need the support of all four Grand Slam events, and Lewis admitted Wimbledon is in a “different place” to the other majors on the issue.

“We have been very slow and protective,” Fagniez said. “It’s time for making changes. Maybe we are not completely aligned around the table. We know that, for Wimbledon, it’s always much more difficult.”

Increasing the use of a 25-second shot clock — also experimented with at the US Open and the Next Gen Finals on a trial basis — would not require a rule change, but rather a modification of how current rules are policed, and can be used at the discretion of events.

As a result, the measure to prevent time wasting is more likely to be featured at higher-profile events next season. A modification of the five-minute warm-up rule seems probable, too, but more evidence may be required before it is seen at Wimbledon.

One change that apparently has broad support is to the prize money for players who retire during first-round matches at Grand Slam events.

Wimbledon had a problem this year with eight players doing so and still collecting a £35,000 ($46,000) loser’s payment, prompting calls from players to change the rules.

The ATP has experimented with a system this year to prevent players turning up injured in order to get paid and has reported a decrease in withdrawals.

A “balanced” proposal to the Grand Slam board would see those who get to the majors and withdraw before their match — as long as they’ve competed in the previous three weeks — get 50 percent of the first-round match fee. The other 50 percent would go to the lucky loser who would take the injured player’s place.

“If they’re on the site and have competed in the previous three weeks and incurred an injury, they will have sustained some expense and we don’t think it’s unreasonable they should get some money,” Lewis said.

“We hope that would address some of the issues we had in this year’s Championships with players going on court when they were carrying injury. That’s an incentive for players to do the right thing. The extra aspect would be that if players go on court and are not fit to play, they would be vulnerable to a fine up to the first-round losers’ prize money. It’s a carrot-and-stick approach.”

Roger Federer has been outspoken about keeping in-match coaching out of the game in the past and has been watching a series of rule experiments at the Next Gen Finals.

“We need to think and take it seriously,” Federer said during a news conference in London. “Once you’ve done it, you don’t want to bounce back and forward changing something if you don’t like it later on. I don’t see that much wrong with our Tour right now that needs that much fixing.”

Any rule changes agreed to by the Grand Slam board may not be immediately communicated, with detail and wording needing to be finalized and various bodies due to be informed before the public.



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