On-Court Coaching: An Experiment

Rob YorkSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2008

Announcer: Welcome to third round action at the 20XX U.S. Open, where as tonight’s feature match, we have No. 5-seed Topten Regular from the United States against Erratic Journeyman from Russia.

Twenty-three year old Journeyman has hovered around the men’s top 50 world rankings for the past couple of years, unable to win a tour event or make significant headway at a major event.

But he’s played some of the best tennis of his career so far in this tournament, riding his huge topspin forehand and heavy kick serve to two straight-set victories. We may be in for a nail-biter tonight as he takes on the 25-year-old Regular, who is hoping to use his big serve to carry him to the second major title of his career.

One thing expected to work in Regular’s favor, however, will be the recent addition of on-court coaching between changeovers, added this year after fans’ repeated requests.

Regular can still count on the help of Topdollar Guru, a former top-10 pro known as one of the best thinkers in the men’s game. Journeyman travels with his brother, former top-100-ranked Andrei Journeyman.

Play is about to get underway, so let’s listen in on the pre-match advice that coaches have for their players. Starting on the American’s side:

Guru: All right, Topper, we know Journeyman blows hot and cold, so we’re going to use the first few games to feel this one out. I want you to focus on taking care of your service games, and if possible keep the ball to his backhand side. He’s got the shots, but you’ve been in this situation a lot more than he has. Go get ‘im.

Announcer: Now, with the aid of our Russian interpreter, let’s listen in to Journeyman’s side.

A. Journeyman, through Translator
: You must always hit forehands. Your backhand is not as good. Keep hitting forehands and try to get his serve back.

(E. Journeyman rolls eyes)

Announcer: We welcome you back to our coverage of men’s third-round action at the U.S. Open, where Topten Regular and Erratic Journeyman are on serve at 4-5, with Journeyman now serving to stay in the set. Thus far in the match, Regular has hit six aces, once clocked at 146 miles per hour, using his serve to keep him in the match.

On the opposite side, Journeyman has been covering huge amounts of territory to run around his weaker backhand wing, but has been dominating the longer exchanges from the back court, so far hitting 13 winners to only three unforced errors.

Just moments ago, we recorded the following advice from the players’ coaches.

Guru: Now that the pressure’s on, I want you to throw something different at him. If he’s gonna run all the way into his backhand corner to hit rocket forehands into your backhand side, I want you to hit the ball up the line to draw him out of there and open up the court. Do that, especially when he serves out wide on the ad court. We’ll see how he handles the pressure of trying to stay in the first set.

A. Journeyman, through Translator: You are hitting good forehands. Continue to do so and try to hit more aces. You always win the point when you hit aces.

(E. Journeyman shakes head)

Announcer: We’re back live in the second set of our feature match. Following a late change in tactics, Topten Regular broke Journeyman to win the first set. A flustered Journeyman proceeded to drop his first service game in the second, and now trails 3-0. Can Journeyman and his coach find a way to turn this match around before it’s too late? Let’s listen in:

A. Journeyman, through Translator: He is hitting to your backhand and coming in to the net. You shouldn’t let him do that. You really need to hit more forehands.

(E. Journeyman sighs aloud)

Announcer: Now let’s listen in to what Guru told Regular just moments ago.

Guru: It’s working so far, now I want you to serve out wide to his forehand, and keep trying to get into net off his backhand wing. He’s flustered out there and ready to pack it in if you’ll just keep it up.

Announcer: If you’re just joining us, Topten Regular has topped Erratic Journeyman 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in a match many will point to as an example, both for and against the new on-court coaching rule. The players have completed their post-match press conferences, and both were asked about how much of a difference they think the coaching made in the match.

Regular: Yeah, I’d say it helped. It looked like he was going to keep me out there most of the night until Topdollar gave me a better idea of how to play him. I wasn’t sold on the idea of on-court coaching, because I kinda liked the way singles tennis is every man for himself, but I’m starting to see the upside now.

E. Journeyman: I thought I had a good chance tonight, but he and maybe his coach had a better plan than me. Maybe the match could’ve been close if it were just me and him, I don’t know. I do know that he’s a top 10 player, so why does he need more help than me? Maybe if I become a top 10 player I can afford a better coach. Except, to become a top 10 player I think I need a better coach first. I don’t know what to do.