The opportunities were especially ripe on the field courts, where many players had early-round matches. The field courts are surrounded by bleachers that allow coaches to sit just a few feet from the players. Also, because the U.S. Open is using the electronic Hawk-Eye system to call the lines in all but the two stadium courts, there are no line officials on most courts who might normally pick up on the communication and report it to the chair umpire.
During a first-round match against Cameron Norrie of Britain, the Argentine baseliner Diego Schwartzman repeatedly wandered close to his coach, Juan Chela, who spoke to Schwartzman in Spanish. Chela wore a mask even though he did not have to do so in his designated coaching seat. No one could see his lips move. The chair umpire was on the other side of the court. Schwartzman lost the match in five sets.
Of course there is only so much a coach can convey in quick snippets. There were countless tips David Kass would have liked to deliver as he watched his star student, the 16-year-old Katrina Scott, as she battled through her three-set second-round match against her fellow American Amanda Anisimova. There were even moments when Kass cupped his hands around his mouth and almost started to speak, then stopped.
What advice would he have given her?
“Being more aggressive with the forehand, serving to specific places, looking for serves coming at one side or another, because there were some tells,” Kass said after the match.
Instead, he stuck with the standard inspirational messages. “You got to go to work,” he said as she fell behind in the third set.
Scott heard it, even though she came up short.
“I’m definitely listening,” Scott said. “I could definitely hear that support, always, and I really appreciated it, especially with no fans.”
So did Varvara Gracheva. On Wednesday, Gracheva, a Russian 20-year-old, was down a set and 5-1, 15-0 to Kristina Mladenovic, yet somehow climbed back to win. It helped that during half of the games, her towel was about two feet from her coach, Bruce Gorregues. They spoke quietly in French.