Governing Bodies Adding to Tennis’ Problems

Posted on September 18 2018

The 2018 US Open will be remembered largely for its drama rather than the tennis. Though the tournament produced some excellent tennis and deserved winners, it was all overshadowed by three crazy incidents. While the furor around these incidents has bordered on the hysterical, each incident highlights some key problems tennis has, and each can be traced back to the way the governing bodies of tennis are set up. 

Coaching, Should it be Legalised? 

The Serena Williams meltdown all started with a code violation for coaching. As virtually anyone on the tour (male or female) will admit, coaching from the stands is far from unusual. Although it is against the rules, many coaches give signals to their players, and mostly they get away with it. There is, however, one instance where coaching is permitted, and that is on the women’s (WTA) tour, in none Grand Slam events, where coaches are allowed on court between sets. Here’s where things get complicated, and it can all be traced back to the fact there are too many governing bodies competing for influence in tennis.


No matter whether it’s men or women, a tiny tournament in the middle of nowhere, or a Grand Slam, everyone is playing the same sport, so why do we have different rules? If coaching from the stands is so difficult to stop, why not legalize it? Stop coaches from coming on to the courts between sets in WTA events, and have a uniform set of rules for everyone. The more the women’s and men’s tours’ rules differ, the more difficult it is for umpires to treat men and women equally.

Fighting Governing Bodies

This is not just an ATP vs WTA issue either. Throw in the ITF and all of the Grand Slam tennis federations, and you have an awful lot of parties trying to exert influence on tennis. This infighting between the governing bodies was highlighted during the Alize Cornet shirt changing incident. The USTA, who are in charge of the US Open, said that while “all players can change their shirts when sitting in the player chair” players are not supposed to change their outfits between points. This was quickly followed by a WTA tweet stating, “the code violation that the USTA handed to Alize Cornet during her first round match at the US Open was unfair and it was not based on a WTA rule, as the WTA has no rule against a change of attire on court… this code violation came under the Grand Slam rules.” It seems not only can tennis’ governing bodies not agree, but they’re also quick to throw each other under the bus.

Fractured Governance Gives Stars Too Much Power

The 3rd incident to hit the headlines at the US Open was the rather bizarre incident between Nick Kyrgios and umpire Mohamed Lahgani. As Kyrgios put in a less than stellar effort against Pierre- Hugues Herbert, the umpire seemingly gave Kyrgios a pep talk, and Kyrgios turned things around to win. Finding any reasoning for this one is a little difficult, but it fits with the way the tennis authorities go to great lengths to protect their star players. While the governing bodies of tennis are split, it creates a vacuum of power, which players can take advantage of. Each body is so desperate to ensure their tournaments are a success that they are overly reliant on their biggest stars turning up and putting on a good show. The more desperate they are, the more their stars can get away with.

Some of the issues at the US Open may have been blown out of proportion, but they highlight some problems that have existed in tennis for a long time. It is in the interest of tennis for all of the governing bodies to start putting tennis before their own interests. If not these dramas will only persist.

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