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WTA Will Allow Coaching From The Stands During Testing Phase


The rules for women's tennis are loosening up a bit. Beginning today in Dubai, the WTA, or the Women's Tennis Association, is allowing coaching from the stands for the rest of this year. The WTA's decision stems from the 2018 U.S. Open Championship match when Serena Williams' coach committed a faux pas, signaling to her what play to make. But we should say, coaching during grand slam matches is still excluded from this change. We spoke to sports journalist Reem Abulleil about why the WTA's legalizing some coaching.

REEM ABULLEIL: I actually think because it's already happening but illegally. The fact - coaches are already doing it. And I actually think that's the reasoning behind the WTA for introducing it - or for allowing it - is because they were like, all coaches are doing it anyway; we might as well make it legal. So I'm not really sure how dramatic the change is going to be.

GREENE: Is that a bad sign, if the WTA is forced into saying - well, all of you are breaking the rules, so we'll just change the rules and let you keep doing this?

ABULLEIL: I actually - I don't think it's a bad sign. I think this is a way for them - this was what they said the reasoning is behind it. I just think that, in general, the WTA is trying to promote their coaches simply to add an extra element and layer to what is an individual sport. I'm not really sure that they're really doing that just because everyone's doing it so we're going to allow it. I think that's just what they're saying (laughter). But I just think that they want coaches to be more involved.

And actually, I don't think that the coaches are going to do a lot more than they're already doing right now. I don't think we're going to find a coach yelling at someone from across the court or deciding to break down tactics and strategy in the few seconds that they have when a player is on their side of the court.

GREENE: I mean, tennis is not a team sport. It's such an individual sport. I mean, it's just amazing to watch an individual over, sometimes, a period of hours, I mean, in those tense moments. Does this put more of a spotlight on coaches and make it more of a collaborative thing in a way?

ABULLEIL: Which, actually, it is - I mean, if you listen to world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, the Australian player, she only speaks in we. She never says the word I. Like, literally she said, we played really well today (laughter). And you're like, Ash, you played really well today.

GREENE: Is she talking about her coach?

ABULLEIL: She's just talking about the whole team. Like, she speaks about herself as a team because that's how she sees it. And anytime you try to give her credit for something, she gives credit to the coaches. Of course, this varies. And some players can't even afford coaches, so I'm not saying that that's how it is all the time. But of course it's a collaborative effort. And actually, right now, the WTA does allow coaches to step on the court once a set to talk tactics. And it's been quite popular.

GREENE: And it is going to be just the Women's Tennis Association. This is not going to affect men's tennis. Does it tell us anything about men's tennis and women's tennis that this is only being done on the women's side?

ABULLEIL: Honestly, in my personal opinion, I think the ATP, which is men's tennis - I think they're just a little more reserved about changing things. They're just scared. I think that tennis is such a traditional sport. And I love that the WTA is experimenting with different things.

First of all, this is a trial. But if it doesn't work, they're just going to stop it. And I like that the WTA is opening themselves to that, whereas the ATP - well, they're changing things in their own ways and introducing the Next Gen finals and all that. But they're very - I don't know why - they're very adamant about not touching the on-court coaching at the moment.

GREENE: Reem Abulleil is a sports journalist. She joined us from Cairo.

Reem, thanks so much.

ABULLEIL: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TENNIS' "LONG BOAT PASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.