A few years ago when on court coaching was introduced in the women’s game, many, including myself, bemoaned this new dynamic in the women’s game. Most of us who grew up watching the greats and the newly minted greats were always in awe of players who could either with a swing of the racquet win a point that they had no business winning or indeed win a match they had no business winning. The mental aspect of the game was in the eyes of many much more important than any other weapon, and indeed became a weapon itself.
I did not watch tennis during the Monica Seles, Steffi Graf era. Frankly, I didn’t even watch tennis during the Martina Hingis era. I have however gone back and looked at matches (thank you YouTube) featuring these players and their ability to win matches on the back of their mental games was inspiring. I used to wonder how it is that someone like Hingis who did not hit with a lot of power was able to overcome players who hit harder, served bigger and had more weapons. Hingis did it with an all court game, but she also did it with her mental approach to the game. She was willing to chase down balls, come into net and try everything in her considerable power to beat her opponent.
In the hey days of the Williams Sister, I was never concerned when someone like Venus Williams was down break points. I always knew that somewhere deep inside her when she took the ball and bounced it reflectively on the court that she was going to summon whatever it was inside her to hit an ace or a service winner and inevitably win the point. Her opponents knew this as well.
Since the introduction of on court coaching I have cause to believe that the women’s game has deteriorated as it relates to the mental strength of the players. The ability to outthink your opponent and to strategise does not seem to be part and parcel of a player’s arsenal any more. This was brought home to me when I watched the rise of Laura Siegemund. Siegemund is what one would call a journeywoman. Many of us who follow the women’s game knew her back story and for those who didn’t there are many sites that have done great overviews on her life and career. She has a really nice game and all in all she seems like a wonderful human being. However, during the last few months as I watched her go on her winning streaks she had this propensity to call her coach down whenever she was in a winning position. She would win a set, sometimes with a bagel set, then she would call her coach down courtside. Many tennis fans, myself included, would wonder why call your coach down after playing such great tennis.
Lindsay Davenport and Mary Carillo (neither of whom are fans of on court coaching), former players who currently provide commentary on Tennis Channel, have opined on the reason for this. They have speculated that perhaps Siegemund needs some type of reassurance from her coach that she is doing the right things. I agree that it is a way for to prop herself. There are other players whose on court coaching exchanges leave me embarrassed. When Sam Sumyk was coaching Victoria Azarenka, I cannot recall him coming down court side on very many occasions. On the rare occasions that he did, it was usually to reinforce in Azarenka that it was her decision whether to pull the plug on a match if she was not 100%. Currently, Sumyk is coaching Muguruza and their exchanges seem to be one where the coach is trying really hard to be deferential as he is an employee and the player is looking on as if everything that is going wrong is his fault.
This morning while this article was spinning around in my head I thought to myself that on court coaching is akin to performance appraisals. We all get them and it is an opportunity for our employers to tell us whether we are doing well or not. However, this is usually done behind closed doors and not in front of millions of people who can now see for themselves that I either have no confidence in what I am doing or I need someone to offer me constant reassurance of how I am doing my job. For me therein lies the conundrum with on court coaching.
When I woke up this morning and I saw that Siegemund had lost, I was surprised. I had expected that she would have gone further in the draw at this year’s French Open, not only because she had been playing well in the lead up tournaments, but also because her opponent, Eugenie Bouchard, a semifinalist here 2 years ago, was just now finding her form and I thought it was unfortunate that Bouchard had such a tough opening round opponent. Clearly, I know nothing (as Ygritte said to Jon). I wonder if her loss had to do with having to tackle the match on her own
Perhaps if Siegemund had relied more on her own ability to think her way through matches, she would have been able to get pass Bouchard and make her way to the second round. As it is she will have to sit around and wait for the next few tournaments in order to play once again.
Results that Shock No One
Angelique Kerber, the No. 3 seed and recent Australian Open champion lost to last week’s winner in Nurenberg, Kiki Bertens in 3 sets. Apparently, there was speculation that Kerber was going for the Calendar Year Grand Slam.
It just will not go away. Allegations have been made that Varvara Lepchenko, tested positive for meldonium but that she received a silent ban and is now back to paying tennis. Lepchenko lost in the first round to Makarova. When asked in her press conference whether or not these allegations were true, Lepchenko cited that statement that is not a statement and said “no comment”. Efforts to get a comment from the WTA have been met with silence.
If these allegations are true then the WTA needs to let us know whether they are true or not. Frankly, Lepchenko in an effort to clear her name should have taken the opportunity to clear her name in her press conference. It is either the case that you tested positive for a banned drug or you did not. If you did, then the ITF and the WTA needs to let us know why Lepchenko was allegedly given a pass while Sharapova was not.
The more stories I hear about this drug Meldonium, the more I am coming to the realization that there is more to this than meets the eye. I am not a journalist (nor do I pretend to be one), but surely someone needs to investigate this drug and determine why so many able bodied athletes felt the need to take this drug. Sharapova has admitted that she took it for 10 years for a variety of symptoms. We do not as of yet know whether she had a TUI exemption for this drug. If it is that Lepchenko was taking this drug, then it behoves the ITF/WTA to tell us why Lepchenko was allegedly taking this drug or indeed Lepchenko needs to tell us why she is alleged to have been taking this drug.
Athletes want us to believe that they are persons of honour and integrity. They want us to believe that they operate by a moral code. Surely, the various sponsors of these players have morality clauses in their contracts that prohibit this type of behaviour. Perhaps the time has come for sponsors to step in and start enforcing their morality clauses.
Equal Prize Money Debate
I have not been able to watch much tennis on Tennis Channel, mostly because of work and mostly because when I do get home from work, most, if not all of the matches that are being shown are men’s matches. On the 24th while I was watching what passes for a recap show on Tennis Channel, the commentators interviewed Chris Kermode, the current ATP CEO. We have a saying where I come from and it goes “the chip doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
When asked by Brett Haber to address the issue of equal prize money, Mr. Kermode prefaced his argument by stating “we live in a politically correct world”. He then went on, without saying so, that the ATP is a better quality product and so he is not really in favour of equal prize money. I am sure that this interview did not receive much comments from tennis fans, probably because most folks put their tv on mute the minute he came on the air. However, while everyone has rightfully taken folks like Sergei, Raymond Moore and Ion Tiriac to task over their comments, the comments by Mr. Kermode seems to have been given a pass.
It is obvious to me that the ATP from the top down considers that their product has much more value than the WTA product. Mr. Kermode was at pains to point out about the new talent that is emerging on the ATP. Far be it from me to point out to Mr. Kermode that unlike the WTA, none of his new talent have won anything of value. Thiem, Dmitrov, Coric, Nishikori, Sock, Kyrgios and a whole host of 20 somethings can barely win a 500 designated ATP tournament and don’t get me started on the Masters Series events and Grand Slams. Meanwhile over on the WTA side in the last 5 years or so we have seen multiple Grand Slam, Premier Mandatory and Premier 5 winners on the women’s side. The talent pool on the WTA is not only filled with talented 20 somethings. They actually win stuff.
Venus Williams stated recently that she was of the view that the equal prize money debate was one that had already been settled a long time ago. Clearly that is not the case.
What do you guys think? Is it time to end this debate? Sound off in the comments