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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Aug 25, 2010

8/25/2010 4:00:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Archive |

This was going to be another Point Counterpoint where I debated with myself over a particular issue. Unfortunately the issue this week is On-Court Coaching, and both me and I are 100% in agreement that IT SUCKS. Rather than just type those two words over and over for the rest of the column (though God I want to), I decided to draft someone to take counterpoint. I went straight to the top, to the guy who’s banging the on-court coaching (OCC) drum the loudest, Uber-coach and ESPN mic-rocker Brad Gilbert. Brad brought the subject up on air recently, championing not just its use on the women’s tour, but campaigning for it to be brought to the men’s tour as well. Needless to say, we’ll be fighting.

Brad. On-court coaching. Why why why?

Brad Gilbert: I’m really passionate about it. I think that it makes the game better, it makes it more intriguing. We did a trial for it a little bit in ’98 and ’99, before the women did it. We might have had four tournaments where it was at and Andre won three of them. I just feel like it gives a great talking point to the TV commentators and to the folks at home. It could be a blowout and someone could end up getting helped by it. Not to mention, you pay your coach who’s there all the time and then you go out there and then you can’t use him, it just seems a little odd.

Here’s my question though. If you’re not as smart as your opponent on the court, don’t you deserve to lose?

Then why do we have it for Davis Cup? Why is it accepted in that situation? Why is it accepted in college tennis? We have coaches in every other sport. Even boxing, which is one of my favorite sports. They go to their corner, they get a minute and they go back out. Even if you get the coaching, the guy still has to pull the trigger and make it still happen. Is your biggest thing because of tradition or because you really just want to see them work it out themselves?

To Coach or Not to Coach

I’m not a traditionalist. I threw myself at Hawk-Eye. But tennis to me is all about psychology. Having somebody out there, even if it’s a total blowout, seeing how they implode and how they handle it, if they don’t handle it well, that’s what it’s all for. If I’m personally out on a tennis court and I know I’ve wrecked someone – or vice versa - I feel like there’s a value in that and a fairness to that that doesn’t exist when someone can come along and say, oh hey by the way, his backhand is weak and you’re missing it so you need to hit to it more.

My thing is, about 90% of the players do some coaching without doing some coaching legally. It’s one of my pet peeves. A guy will be talking to his coach 27 different times and then out of nowhere they’ll finally decide to give him a coaching warning. I’m almost in favor of, okay, if you don’t have on-court coaching, then just allow that so that’s not considered cheating. Maybe even put a mic by those ones. That has to be worked out, because it seems like it goes on quite a bit. I sit down low. They’re there, in the eyes, every single point. I’m sure you see it too.

Well then let’s put cameras on those guys the entire match. Police them. You said on air that OCC has improved the women’s game. How on earth?

I like what the ladies are doing. When the men did it, it was once at the end of the first set and once at the end of the second set, so twice in a three set match. I like the fact that the ladies is more intriguing. You can do it three times in a three set match, once a set, but there’s no set time. You can come out at 5-4 in the first, you can come out in the first game, you’re down 1-4… I was very impressed at Stanford last year, Marion Bartoli’s dad a couple times when he chose to come out. I even asked him about it, like Why did you go out there? And he was like, ‘Well I just sensed that she was down. And then maybe it could get away from us.’ He sensed, okay, it could slip away from us, then he gave her a little pep talk and then immediately her game picked up.

If he’s deciding when he’s coming down to coach, isn’t that illegal coaching for him to signal her to say, Call me now? Shouldn’t it be up to her to call the coach?

Uhh. I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t know how the rules are exactly on their tour. When I did it with Andre is was very clear cut. End of set, go. And there was no other times. There wasn’t any thinking to it. It looked to me like [Walter Bartoli] just kind of trotted out there.

What do the ATP players you’ve spoken to think about on-court coaching? And feel free to name drop, we like that here.

I brought this up to the ATP a few different times [but] I’ve never sat down with any of these current players and had any discussions with them about it. Andre was totally for it.

When I was coaching Murray, we talked about it. And he was for it.

Andy Murray liked the idea of on-court coaching?

Yes. For me, the biggest thing is the big matches. Semifinals. 15,000 people. It’s no fun to watch a blowout. And there’s no guarantee that when I go out there, that Wow I’m some magician that you’re going to change the score. You like to think you can give some input, some things that can be tried and maybe help out the situation.

You’d like it for the Grand Slams?

Absolutely. Men and women. It shouldn’t be on one and not the other. That’s kind of odd.

This whole thing about on-court coaching making for better TV, I’ve got to say, I’ve yet to see this alleged entertainment value. Except the stuff that happens by accident that has nothing to do with actual coaching, like Michael Joyce nearly calling Serena the B word (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyVtCgxkei4). In fact, it’s caused more problems. How about last year in when Caroline Wozniacki’s on-court coaching session led to her retiring up 7-5, 5-0 and becoming the subject of a betting probe? (http://www.gototennisblog.com/2009/10/21/caroline-wozniacki-probed-for-sporting-retirement-in-luxembourg/) Stacey Allaster (who readers may recall I wrote an open letter to on the subject: http://www.tennischannel.com/news/NewsDetails.aspx?newsid=7146) gave an interview last week in which she admitted “Fans are 50-50 on it so I wouldn’t call it a hit.” And yet it persists.

We could argue both sides for eternity. But I just kind of get the feeling that there’s a lot more good that could come of it. Just like a lot more good came from Shot Spot. It becomes like a little chess piece to the equation. I can’t believe that we haven’t revisited this at least. It was in ’98, a little bit in ’99. There’s barely anybody playing that was a factor then that was part of it. To be so clear cut to not do it… that’s one of my pet peeves. [I’m like] ‘Okay let’s try it. Let the players do a stint with it like the ladies do, do it for 6 tournaments, 8 tournaments, do some analysis on it and then make a decision,’ and [the response is] just always ‘No.’ I think that’s ridiculous. More than anything James, I just want to see it tried again. Then if the players try it, don’t like it, then we can put it aside.

Eh.

I didn’t convince you huh? That’s okay.

My behind is still chafed from Round Robin.

That was…not good.

Before I let you go, I have to ask you about something not entirely on point. “Honey Hole?” [Note: ‘Honey hole’ is the latest and greatest of what I like to call his Bradisms, which he recently dropped on air.]

Chris [Fowler] about fell out of his chair when I said that. I think I’ve heard that thing forever. Maybe a coach told me..? It’s where your spot is where you like the ball, where you like to hit it. I’ve had a lot of people tell me it was more to the liking of a female. Wasn’t there also a reference in Winnie the Pooh? I’ve been saying it a long time.

I’d like your permission to incorporate it into my vocabulary. Because, unlike on-court coaching, it is without a doubt undeniably awesome.

You got it buddy.

Catch Gilbert drops even more Bradisms over the next two weeks as he lends his considerable expertise to ESPN2’s coverage of the US Open. For less considerable expertise, check back here starting Monday for my daily US Open blog/Flushing Meadows Dance Party, live from USTA BJK NTC. Snark, talking tennis ball, blah blah you know the drill.

In the meantime, whose coaching argument was more in your honey hole? Let me know at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa