Down the line: Should the WTA rethink on-court coaching? Davenport thinks so

In this week's Down the Line column, Reem Abulleil discusses the WTA's on-court coaching rule, following the awkward exchange between Garbine Muguruza and her coach Sam Sumyk in Miami.

Reem Abulleil
by Reem Abulleil
27th March 2017

article:27th March 2017

Muguruza and Sumyk.
Muguruza and Sumyk.

We’re halfway through the Miami Open and we’ve already seen everything from iguana court invasions to awkward fights during on-court coaching visits in the WTA matches.

Garbine Muguruza’s exchange with her coach Sam Sumyk during the Spaniard’s second round encounter with Christina McHale made headlines worldwide and prompted ex-world No1 and current TV pundit Lindsay Davenport, who coaches Madison Keys, to suggest that mic’ed up on-court coaching visits needed rethinking.


A frustrated Muguruza had apparently directed some ill-advised comments towards Sumyk during the clash and when the Frenchman came on court later for a coaching visit, he told her “don’t tell me to shut the f*** up ever again.”

Muguruza appeared almost in tears while she apologised to Sumyk, and to many, it made for some uncomfortable viewing.

Sumyk actually tried to muffle the sound coming out of the microphone so no one would hear the conversation when it got tense, but we could still hear parts of the exchange.


When on-court coaching – which is only allowed in WTA matches, and not on the ATP or ITF – was introduced in 2008, it gave fans a new and unique viewing experience, bringing more insight into a player’s psyche during a match.

While it continues to draw lots of criticism, primarily because tennis is meant to be a contest between two individuals, relying solely on themselves, it also has its supporters amongst the WTA following.

We’ve seen the dialogue get quite tense between players and their coaches at times.

But we’ve also seen the brilliance of the likes of Davenport, while talking to her charge, Keys, and hilarious moments like when Madison Brengle told her coach Nicole Melichar, while she was defeating Serena Williams in Auckland, “I think she’s surprised at how bad I am”.

Granted, having that kind of unfiltered access to a conversation between a coach and a player is not too common in individual sport. Some people brand it as “intrusive”, but I personally enjoy it immensely and find it very insightful. Why have on-court coaching if we can’t listen to what they’re saying?

Things might get awkward sometimes but how often does that happen?

I’m all for anything that adds personality to the sport and this definitely achieves that.

MIAMI TALKING POINTS

What’s going on with Aga?

Agnieszka Radwanska has slipped to No8 in the world and has not won back-to-back matches this year since Sydney, which was in the second week of January. Her latest setback was a straight-sets drubbing to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, in which she could only muster winning three games. With the rise of Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elina Svitolina and others, Radwanska must up her game is she wants to stick around in the top-10.

Is Miami leaving Crandon Park?

The Miami Open lost their appeal to get permission for expanding the host venue, Crandon Park, and the facilities have been in dire need for an upgrade for some time now. Players and journalists have complained about the venue and it’s looking likely that the tournament will relocate for the first time since 1987. Players were asked about their thoughts on the matter this week and it looks like the response is: As long as it stays in Miami, we’re happy if it moves!


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