Chairman Philip Brook could be willing to rethink Wimbledon’s previously-staunch opposition to on-court coaching after branding the Serena Williams US Open controversy “not a good look for tennis”.
Williams was given her first code violation by umpire Carlos Ramos in the tempestuous final at Flushing Meadows earlier this month for illicit coaching from Patrick Mouratoglou in the stands.
The Frenchman admitted on TV immediately after the match that he was coaching but Williams, who never uses the on-court coaching breaks allowed on the WTA Tour, has maintained that they have not discussed coaching signals.
The American was incensed by the warning and was eventually docked a game for a third violation after calling Ramos a liar and a thief.
Brook was in New York for the match, which ended with both players in tears and the stadium reverberating to the sound of booing from the crowd.
His sympathies lay mainly with Ramos, with Brook asserting the pressure of the situation, as Williams sought to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam singles titles, led her to lose her cool.
He said: “People said to me, ‘Would that happen at Wimbledon’? My first reaction is maybe it could, but actually I do wonder whether (it was) the uniqueness of the circumstances in New York.
“Being in the stadium, it was really partisan. I could imagine the pressure on her being even greater than ever, and we all saw what happened. I think she was under a lot of pressure, I think he (Ramos) was doing his job and what unfolded, unfolded. It was not a good look for tennis.”
The momentum seems to be towards allowing some form of coaching during matches, with everyone in tennis accepting coaches and players abuse the rules frequently and that there is a lack of consistency with how sanctions are enforced.
The US Open permitted players to talk to their coaches during qualifying and junior matches for a second year while the Australian Open and French Open are believed to be open to at least experimenting.
Any move to allow it during main draw matches would need to be unilateral among the slams, and Wimbledon has so far been totally against it.
But Brook is now keen to have a meeting before the end of the year to discuss the issue, although Wimbledon remains philosophically opposed.
He said: “The situation is very confusing for everybody. Wimbledon and others think the time has come for an adult conversation across the sport to see where it goes. What we would like to learn from those who have conducted trials is, ‘OK, persuade us why it is a good idea’.”
Coaching is just one example of a growing sense of independence among tennis’ administrative bodies that has led to increasing conflict.
Brook is concerned, saying: “There is more unilateral behaviour and discord among the governing bodies than I’ve seen in the sport in 20 years and I think it would be great if tennis could do a better job of coming together and trying to figure things out and try to act in the best interests of tennis.
“We (Wimbledon) are not necessarily the easiest of people to deal with. People might say, ‘Shall we all vote for coaching, it’s good for the sport’. We will say no, but if the rest of the sport say we want to do it and there are good reasons, then maybe Wimbledon should fit in.”
The hottest current battleground is over men’s team tennis, with the International Tennis Federation voting through plans for a new World Cup-style Davis Cup two months after the ATP announced it was pushing ahead with a World Team Cup starting in January 2020.
The two competitions are scheduled to take place just over a month apart, something even ATP president Chris Kermode called “insane”.
The Davis Cup changes have been hugely controversial, and led to division within British tennis as Wimbledon gave its support to the proposals before the Lawn Tennis Association – which had the voting rights – came out against.
Brook insisted relations have not been unduly affected and cited the threat to the Davis Cup’s position for backing the reforms.
He said: “Had (the vote) failed, the consequences could have been, I think, quite dramatic. You might have lost your investors, you might have lost your lead sponsor.
“By the vote going through, there is a chance, and I use that word thoughtfully, of the Davis Cup getting its position back in the sport that it deserves to have.”