Tennis: Coaches' opportunity to call the shots on court: Players express misgivings about plans of ATP Tour chief executive to liven up the sport. John Roberts reports from Frankfurt

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The Independent Online
DISPUTES with umpires could resemble tag wrestling if the ATP Tour follows the Davis Cup tradition of allowing coaches on the court. Mark Miles, the Tour's chief executive, is promoting the innovation as a means of adding excitement to the game.

'I personally will press to find a way to experiment a little bit and see how it works and what the reaction is,' Miles said. 'I think that the idea of some coaching is interesting. Coaches add another element. In other sports they add more personality. In a way which is not reckless, I'd like to see the crowds get more involved in matches.'

In Davis Cup ties, non-playing captains of national teams sit on the court. They have access to players during change-overs and are also permitted to query decisions with the umpire. On the men's and women's tours, players can be penalised if coaches are caught giving instructions, verbally or by semaphore.

Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion and world No 1, backs the status quo. 'Tennis is an individual sport,' he said. 'I don't really see that happening on the court, and I am not in favour of it.'

Andrei Medvedev, the youngest of the top eight players who contested the ATP Tour Championship here last week, also expressed misgivings. 'In some matches it would help me to have someone to tell me to cool my head down and relax,' the 19- year-old Ukrainian said. 'But I don't think it would help me to be a better or a stronger person.'

Miles is aware of the opposition. 'Some players don't like the idea, and I appreciate this,' he said. 'And not all players have access to the same coaches. I think that is life, personally. The one thing that you'd have to take seriously is that it does change the game in so far as it is less of an individual competition. I want our game to talk about that and to think about whether or not that is something we can't leave behind or whether or not coaches would be a good thing.

One innovation Miles would leave behind is electronic line judging, which malfunctioned and was abandoned at the United States Open. 'I think this is the wrong time to experiment with something which may have some meaningful benefits, but clearly could have some significant negative effects on the attractiveness of the game,' he said.

Asked if he considered players haranguing umpires to be part of the game's appeal, Miles said: 'I suppose that exchanges between players and umpires is one aspect of the game that people like to see. I don't like to see bad calls affect matches, and I don't like to see players behave in a way which is not becoming. But, you know, they are out there trying to win, and I don't mind seeing a little bit of emotion.'

During the week, Luke Jensen pumped up the volume by advocating 'rock'n'roll' tennis, and Jim Courier turned it down by reading a novel during the changeovers in his match against Medvedev.

'I really like Luke Jensen's enthusiasm,' Miles said, 'but the ideas - at least some of the ideas - he expressed at the forum are not likely to show up on the court soon.'

And Courier? 'I am not wild about the impression it gave tennis fans, but I don't think I can say to Jim Courier that he didn't try to win that match. He had four match points and lost 7-6 in the third. I think it's pretty obvious that he came here frustrated, not having a shot at No 1. I can talk to him about how his frustrations showed himself to the public, but I don't think any disciplinary action is appropriate.'

The Davis Cup men's competition could become a round-robin event under changes being considered by its organisers, the International Tennis Federation. A round- robin competition would give participating countries more notice of fixtures and guarantee everyone at least one home tie a year, the ITF said. The federation is canvassing the elite world group countries to see if there is support for the proposal, which will be discussed at a seminar during this year's final between Germany and Australia from 3 to 5 December in Dusseldorf.

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