Serena Williams lost a tennis match yesterday at the 2018 US Open, but not without some controversy.

[Williams was] penalized in the second set because of three separate game violations.

The first violation is mostly where I'm confused.

Williams got the first violation from umpire Carlos Ramos, who ruled that Williams received coaching earlier in the set; she told him she'd "rather lose" than cheat.

What does that mean? Coaches can't "coach" during a match? Does that mean no communication is allowed between coach and player? Why have a coach then if they can't give you a second perspective during a match? Seems like such a strange rule.

How closely is this rule followed? Williams' coach seems to think it's both a bad rule and generally not enforced. Is this true? Are there other sports leagues with a similar rule? I'm coming from an American football and baseball understanding, where coaching is vital to play.

  • It is definitely not always enforced. Look at 7:53 of this video showing the 5th set tiebreaker between Nadal and Fritz in the 2022 Wimbledon quarterfinal. Fritz just lost a point, and his coach is doing a whole lot of talking and hand gesturing from the stands. No violation was called. Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 0:56

2 Answers 2


On-court coaching is defined by the WTA as the player being allowed, once per set, to call their coach onto the court for coaching, and that any active communication between the coach and player outside of this is considered a violation. However, the WTA allows on-court coaching for all tournaments except the four grand slams.

During the game, chair umpire Carlos Ramos apparently saw some signals from Serena Williams' coach and interpreted it as an attempt at coaching, despite the fact that Serena was unaware of the signal and may not have been even looking at her coach's box that point. At that point, as with the abuse of racket and unsportsmanlike conduct violations that followed, handing the code violation for on-court coaching was fully at the discretion of the chair umpire, who deemed it necessary.


By rule, no, coaches are not permitted to coach during a match at the professional level. However, there have been recent interviews with popular coaches for some of the game's biggest names and they confirmed that coaching does occur in nearly every match. It's sort of like baseball. Coaches just have signals they give the players, only they're very subtle. For instance, prior to a serve a coach may sit with his face in his hands as a sign to the player that they should serve down the T or out wide. After a point, a coach may clap a certain number of times when the player is facing the box to indicate something that they notice as a weakness of an opponent.

You'll never be able to point out exactly when coaching is occurring, but know that it is indeed happening!

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