The ATP, which runs the men’s professional tennis tour, has announced it will trial “off-court” coaching at the US Open and all other events in the second half of this season.
But the rule has been slammed by many experts while Serena Williams’ long-time coach Patrick Mourtagolou, now working with ex-world No.1 Simona Halep, said it has been going on “at almost every match for decades” anyway.
The governing body said coaching would be permitted from designated seats during qualifying and main draw matches at events starting from July 11.
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Verbal and non-verbal coaching will be allowed only if it does not interrupt play or hinder the opponent, with verbal coaching only permitted when the player is at the same end of the court.
Hand signals are allowed at any time but coaches may not speak to their player when he leaves the court for any reason.
Penalties and fines will still apply for abuse or misuse of the new coaching conditions.
“Congratulations to the ATP for “legalizing” a practice that has been going on at almost every match for decades. No more hypocrisy,” Mouratoglou tweeted about the change.
But Australian tennis great and commentator Todd Woodbridge replied: “This is so disappointing to see that such a high profile coach blatantly admits that he has broken the rules of our sport for so long.”
The change has angered many with veteran New York Times tennis writer Christopher Clarey calling it a “sad day for tennis”.
Australian Tennis Hall of Fame member David Hall added: “The beauty of tennis was that you had to work your opponent out for yourself. One on one battle.
“This six month off court coaching trial on ATP tour strips it away for no good reason.”
The trial will run through to the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin in November. The ATP announcement brings the men’s tour into alignment with the women’s WTA Tour, which already has an off-court coaching trial in place.
Coaching for players during matches has long been a thorny issue in tennis, with players often complaining that an opponent has received advice from their coach despite rules that prohibited it for many years.
Various coaching rules have been trialled across tennis in recent years, including on-court coaching and coaching via headsets.