Aus. Open Build-Up

Jan 17, 2009

The Russian Invasion!

A few years back a young female Russian tennis player had the world at her feet. Looks, talent and a growing rivalry with another young prodigy, Martina Hingis.

Depending on how you look at it Anna Kournikova was either a massive waste of talent, or the most over-rated female tennis player of the modern era.

Either way we should be forever grateful to her for paving the way for the parade of Russian women that have followed in her path. What would a summer of tennis be without the Russian’s.

And so it was in Friday night’s final of the Medibank international, Sydney’s major lead up event for the Aussie Open. In the red corner from Russia, world number three, Dinara Safina. And…also in the red corner from Russia, world number four Elena Dementieva.

The eventual winner of the final, (and one of my tips to take the title in Melbourne in a fortnight) – Dementieva. Last year’s Olympic champion has been in hot form this month, winning in Auckland, and doing a demolition job on an admittedly tired Serena Williams in the semi’s here.

She’s looking as fit as I’ve ever seen her, and she just seems to have her head in the right place. I think she’ll be hard to beat. The one weakness in her game is the serve – over seven rounds of a Major someone’s going to get after it at some stage. How she handles that will determine how far into the second week she survives.

In-Match Coaching For Women’s Tennis Players?

There was one very interesting thing to come out of Friday night’s game. The WTA has announced that this season they will allow on-court coaching in the women’s game. They have placed some regulations on this.

  • You do not have to confer with your coach if you don’t want to.
  • You are allowed to confer once each set, and again any time your opponent takes a medical timeout.
  • Coaches must agree to be miked up, with their words being broadcast over the courtside loudspeakers and into the homes of the television audience.
  • As the 4 major’s are outside the jurisdiction of the WTA, this in-match coaching will not be allowed at these tournaments.

In this particular match Safina made use of her coach, while Dementieva did not. Dementieva won the first set, after which Safina’s coach came down and gave her an absolute tongue-lashing. I assume that given the above rules her opponent could hear this as well, although I can’t be 100% sure of this. All I know is that we could hear every word of the coaching at home.

Safina then came out and won the second set in a breeze, before falling apart and losing the third. So, the questions this raises include:

  • How did this verbal barrage affect Dementieva? It obviously lifted Safina’s play (if only for a set), but did it have any negative effects on Dementieva’s game?
  • What about the lower ranked players who can’t afford to have a coach travel to every tournament with them – last time I checked Australia is a long way from the rest of the world! Does this rule change make it even more difficult for the struggling tour pro’s?
  • Was this rule change introduced because the general feeling amongst players was that some people were getting illegal in-match coaching anyway through the use of pre-arranged signals from courtside coaches?
  • Does this rule change come as result of pressure from TV networks (who after all pay a huge mney for broadcast rights), to push forward with innovations that will lead to greater viewer numbers in the smaller tournaments that don’t have the popularity of the four majors?
  • Is this rule change a good thing, and should we see it in men’s events, and the four majors?

Personally I’m not convinced. And judging by Dementieva not using her coach, I don’t think all of the players are either. Safina is known as having a bit of a fragile mind, so the coaching is obviously going to be of a much greater benefit to her than it is to many other players.

Some people may argue that coaching is allowed in most other sports, but when you think about it these are mainly team sports. You don’t see Phil Mickelson’s coach heading out to the eighth green to try and help Phil avoid yet another beating at the hands of Tiger. Maybe that’s what he needs?

I’d love to know what other tennis fans think about this innovation in the women’s game. While I don’t necessarily think it’s a great idea, I can also appreciate that many people will enjoy having the chance to hear this coaching during a match.

Written by: Crooksy

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