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In-Match Tennis Coaching Is Hiding in Plain Sight

In-Match Tennis Coaching Is Hiding in Plain Sight

The ATP and Wimbledon remain the most powerful roadblocks to further expansion of in-match coaching. The U.S. Open, which has tried it during qualifying and junior matches, would like to introduce it for main-draw play in 2019, but with unanimity required among the Grand Slam tournaments to make such a change, Wimbledon can stop the move, although U.S. Open leaders hope Wimbledon executives eventually will at least allow the other majors to proceed.

The U.S. Open plan is not to follow the WTA lead but to allow coaching from only the players box or the stands. That is in part — if only in part — because they say they believe the existing rule is unenforceable.

That seems undeniable when you speak with members of the coaching community. Not all agree with Mouratoglou’s assertion that “100 percent” of them are coaching during matches. “Some do; some don’t,” said Mardy Fish, a former top 10 player.

But there is consensus that surreptitious coaching is widespread.

“I don’t know one coach who doesn’t coach from the sidelines,” Becker said. “The secret now is not to be caught. That can’t be a good system.”

For now, illicit coaching is served in many forms, as it has been for decades. Brad Gilbert, an ESPN analyst, was once ranked No. 4 and has coached Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori.

“I’ve done it a lot, and I never got called for any coaching in my career,” Gilbert said in an interview from Malibu, Calif., last week. “The subtlety of it is not being obvious. Never make a motion with your hand like your forehand or backhand. Never put the finger to your nose for a first serve or something like that.”

But Gilbert, long an advocate for in-match coaching, said he had seen players have running conversations with their coaches without being penalized, especially those who could have them in a language other than English.

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