November 25, 2023

Open Court


WTA chief Steve Simon on grunting, on-court coaching

Tennis Channel broadcaster Mary Carillo tried.

But she couldn’t get smiling Steve Simon, the head of the WTA Tour, to offer any concrete answers on two of her pet peeves (and, it should be said, the pet peeves of many tennis fans).

Simon’s stock answer to the on-court coaching:

“I am a supporter of the on-court coaching. I think it’s a great tool for the players, I think it’s good for the sport and the fans, because they want to get that inside information.”

Smooth, but quickly debunked by the fact that 1) very little insight is ever provided in these little tête-à-têtes and 2) the majority of them happen in a language other than English, which greatly limits the stated intention of “bringing that inside information to the fans”.

Most of it is players staring straight ahead, pretending to ignore the coach or coach/father, who looms over them telling them everything is fine. Or the sounds of women panicking that they can’t win their serve.

When Carillo points that out, Simon changes his answer, somewhat.

“I’d love to not see that. I don’t think you want to see that in any sport. But I think it comes with coaching, and it comes with access. If we’re going to provide access, and we’re going to truly talk about coaching, these are some of the things that will come from it.”

As for the grunting – on point with the two biggest noisemakers on the WTA Tour, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka – due to return this spring/summer, Simon has no answer.

“I think the reason there was nothing done about it is that I don’t think anyone’s come up with a solution as to how to you make someone stop making noises when they play. The general feeling is that it has to be done at the grassroots level,” he said. “There are rules that talk about hindrance. And those have been enforced, and they have called those at times. I’m not sitting here today telling you I have a solution for it. But we do recognize that people don’t like it. But it’s something I don’t have a solution for at this point.”

This is not a new issue.

Simon seems nice and kindly. And he’s always smiling. But it’s hard to argue that his tenure has brought a lot to the women’s game so far. His previous job with the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, especially in the later years when the wallet was stuffed with Larry Ellison’s luchre, had to be pretty much a dream job.

The WTA Tour is facing a lot of challenges these days, including the fact that it’s a major challenge for most people on the planet to even watch the product right now. It’s almost like it’s happening in a vacuum at times.

If you can’t watch, does tennis really happen?

The new, proprietary streaming service was due to start in January, after a split with the excellent Tennis.TV service that also broadcasts the ATP Tour. It still hasn’t happened, and it’s hard to tell if it will even happen in 2017. Fans are being forced into various sites of various legitimacy levels on the Internet to watch. Most are poor quality. But they’re free; it’s going to be very difficult to get the fans back to a paying service.

Simon has been noncommittal; he also has offered very little insight into exactly WHY it’s not happening.

But he’s smiling.

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