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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Oct 28, 2009

10/28/2009 12:00:00 AM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Oct 28, 2009

Dear Stacey Allaster,

You don't know me. I cover your sport. And do quite a bit of PR for you in my daily life. You see, I love women's tennis. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. And not in that, oh how cute, she thinks she's a boy out there on that court huffing and puffing in that short little skirt kind of way. And listen to her little grunts! Let's mimic them playing beer pong! No, to me, women's tennis is blood sport with just the right mix of psychology and psychosis to showcase what the female of the species is truly capable of in this capital M Man's World. And it's a scary, thrilling thing.

So just know, I'm on your side.

I wanted to give you time to settle into your new gig as CEO of the WTA before I got in touch. And you've certainly had your hands full. That Serena Williams can sure keep you busy, huh? But you're settled now. And I'm anything but.

In sitting down to write this week's column, I had a cornucopia of choices at my disposal. You know Andre Agassi used meth while he was playing? And lied to the ATP to cover a failed drug test? That's 1000 words, right there. And wore a hair piece? That's 500 more. Add to that Dinara Safina withdrawing from Doha in tears and Serena finishing the year No 1 for the first time since '02 and it's been a pretty eventful 24 hours. But instead I took this opportunity to write to you. What trumped all that business? What has me so in a lather, so over the edge, that only you, Stacey Allaster, can pull me back?

It's on court coaching. And it's officially a disaster.

As my readers can attest, on court coaching has been as near and dear to my heart as a blood clot, from the very beginning. Tennis is an individual sport with a high premium placed on one's ability to think on their feet. The ability to create solutions, especially when you're on the ropes, is what separates champions from also-rans. Leaders from followers.

Add to that the extra element that most women employ male coaches and it's just an unfortunate picture, broadcast to millions in HD, of a man making his way on court to tell a frustrated girl what to do. Call me Gloria Steinem but it makes me bristle.

Still, experiments are important. Without them we wouldn't have things like Hawk-Eye or the 2009 US Fed Cup team. Sometimes they pay off. But sometimes they don't. On court coaching certainly hasn't, which we can see by taking a good look at where we are today.

Many argue Justine Henin's retirement set the table for a tour implosion. Not only were fans Looking for a Hero, so were the heroes themselves. They still are. I'd argue that on court coaching has had as much if not more to do with that, emotionally crippling the tour and leaving these women feeling wholly incapable of seizing their own destinies. Simply put, got a problem? Call your coach.

Steffi Graf never called for a coach!

And to see this at the Year End Championships! These are the top eight players in the world! The very best we have to offer. And they're made to believe they need someone to come out and fix their problems? I was watching with a friend earlier today when Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka both called out their coaches. "Can you imagine," I remarked, "Steffi Graf or Martina Hingis calling for their coaches?" To which my friend replied, "Totally different players. Girls today aren’t made from the same stuff." This is what I'm dealing with. I said I did a lot of PR for you. Well, lately, it's been a lot of damage control.

We were told we'd see better tennis. Have we? We were also told there'd be some added entertainment value for people at home by getting these coaches Mic'd up. Let them see what the coaches have to say! Has it been entertaining? Not to me. Though I'm sure those people who could understand Wozniacki's father in Luxembourg advising her to retire who then ran to the betting sites to make a few bucks off it appreciated it.

Thankfully on court coaching isn't allowed at the Grand Slams. And that's where we may see some of the most damning evidence. Who's winning the hardware and showing their best tennis? Players who haven't been conditioned to look outside of themselves. Who's coming up short? Players who dominate on the regular tour who come apart at the seams when the umbilical cord to their coach is cut.

On court coaching wasn't your experiment. It was your predecessor's. A noble effort, but a failed one. There's a new sheriff in town, one who can send a message of empowerment to her troops, remind them who they are and how they got here and let them find themselves again. Let's chalk an outline around this body and give these women, and their fans, their sport back.

Yours truly,

James LaRosa