Tennis Coaching Debate Simmers at French Open

In anticipation of a French Open face-off between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, host Steve Inskeep talks to Bud Collins. The Boston Globe columnist, and NBC commentator, talks about the role of coaches during tennis matches.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, so what would be wrong with Rafael Nadal's uncle coaching him during a tennis match? Isn't that what coaches are supposed to do?

We've put that question to Bud Collins, who is a columnist for the Boston Globe and also a commentator for NBC, and he is in Paris. Mr. Collins, welcome to the program.

Mr. BUD COLLINS (Columnist, Boston Globe; Commentator, NBC): Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: And what are the rules here?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, the rule are that you are not allowed to coach from the stands. Now, this takes various forms. In this case, it came out almost accidentally because my wife, who was sitting near the court, heard Federer, in a rather sarcastic manner, say, Is that okay, Tony? Is that what you wanted?

I asked him about it afterwards, and I thought it was referring to his coach Tony Roach, but he said, no, no, it's Tony Nadal, who was coaching. He's not supposed to coach from the stands...

INSKEEP: Tony Nadal is Uncle Tony, I guess, to Rafael Nadal?

Mr. COLLINS: Uncle Tony. Yeah, we have two Tonys in the case: Tony Roach, who's Federer's coach, and Uncle Tony Nadal.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the evidence here. Rafael Nadal says, sure, my uncle was yelling at me, but all he was saying was (foreign language spoken), let's go, and (foreign language spoke), which means, go for it, or strongly. If that's all he said, would that be illegal?

Mr. COLLINS: No, I don't think so. Everybody yells...

INSKEEP: That's like rooting.

Mr. COLLINS: ...but afterwards, I found out that he was giving hand signals. If they help, I don't know, but it is against the rules. Now, in every sport -baseball - they steal signals. Everybody cheats in every sport, I'm sorry to say.

INSKEEP: All those signals are allowed in baseball, why wouldn't they be allowed in tennis?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, you know, there's quite a movement among the coaches to be able to be on the court, to advise their players on the changed games. I'm against that. One of the great virtues, it seems to me, of tennis, is the self-reliance of the player. You're out there all alone and you've got to do the job.

So, I think, leave them in the stands and they can - I remember Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the great Spanish player - her mother was watching the match, and she was wearing a dress that was too small, she thought, and she kept getting up and adjusting the dress. And she was cited for coaching from the stands.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: You'd be cited for a lot of things in that (unintelligible).

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah!

INSKEEP: We should mention that you're in Paris, not on vacation, but to cover the French Open.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, it's like a vacation.

INSKEEP: Where a lot of people are anticipating the possibility of a rematch between Nadal and Federer.

Mr. COLLINS: Well, I think there will be a rematch, and Federer came very, very close last time in Rome. A few weeks ago, he had two match points in the fifth set and, uncharacteristically, he blew two forehands, which is his best shot. But I think he has found a way to beat Nadal, which is to get to the net more often, to rush Nadal if you can, and I believe Federer is going to win the title.

INSKEEP: Although everybody is going to be watching the two Tonys - the two coaches.

Mr. COLLINS: They will - the Tonys.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Collins, be sure to keep your hands down at your sides during the match.

Mr. COLLINS: That's right. I'll just keep them on my computer.

INSKEEP: That's Boston Globe columnist and NBC commentator Bud Collins speaking with us from Paris.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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