"I finally convinced Martina just to forget about everything that went before and in a third-set tiebreak just to play seven solid points and we'd go home." In the 1986 U.S. Open semifinals Navratilova beat Graf 6-1, 6-7, 7-6 and "turned it around," says Estep. "For me that was the final piece in the puzzle."
Estep and Navratilova did not renew their contract in '87. Friends say Estep's wife, Barbara, and Martina's companion, Judy Nelson, were continually at each other's throats, but Estep says he initiated the parting because he wanted to do other things. "The split was amicable," says Estep. Since then Martina has gone through a couple of other coaching regimes and found happiness with former tour player Tim Gullikson and the previously deposed Nancy Lieberman.
"Is coaching valuable?" says Estep. "We learn so much over the years of a career. God, would I have loved at 20 to have the tennis head of a 40-year-old. I wish I had been able to coach me."
So why isn't on-court tennis coaching legal in tour tournaments the way it is in the Davis and Federation cups? For one reason, the game's pooh-bahs are afraid that such a ruling would unduly benefit the top players, who can afford the service. "I'm too expensive," says Estep, an ATP board member who continues to vote against legalizing coaching. For another, tennis is terrified that strong-willed coaches—say, Tiriac doing a Romanian rendition of baseball's Billy Martin—would take over matches with squawking, posturing and intimidation.
The rule prohibiting coaching signals in tennis is about as silly as the NBA taboo against zone defenses. "We all signaled," says Fred Stolle, who has coached, among others, Vitas Gerulaitis. "I might touch my nose or scratch my ear to tell Vitas to go to the backhand on an approach. There were signals all the time. Tiriac would hold his cigarette in either hand depending on where he wanted his guys to serve."
After Lendl amassed 27 aces and 18 double faults against Leconte at Wimbledon a few years ago, he attributed his inconsistency to "misunderstanding Tony," who was sitting in the stands. Graf was penalized in the 1986 Amelia Island finals after officials caught her father making enough weird gesticulations to Steffi to suggest an attack of ticks. In March 1987 in Brussels, Willie (Pato) Alvarez—one of the tour's bizarre characters in the early '60s, a guy who lived out of a battered Volkswagen and predated (some say invented) Nastasian mischief—was doing some coaching. Specifically, Pato was engaged in one of his typical semaphore displays while helping his prize wards, the Spanish duo of Emilio Sanchez and Sergio Casal, in a doubles match against Brian Levine and Laurie Warder. Says Alvarez, "I am greatest unknown coach in world." But this time he was caught, and Sanchez and Casal were penalized. The Spaniards won anyway, but upon leaving the court, Warder yelled at Alvarez, "Pato, you are a cheater."
"What?" said Alvarez.
"You are a cheater. You cheat."
Reports on what happened next vary, but Alvarez says, "I have to hit Warder." Sanchez and Casal, after originally denying having ever seen Alvarez—they all happened to be living together in the same hotel room at the time—ultimately owned up to the coaching and were fined for unsportsmanlike conduct. Warder was fined for coach abuse. Alvarez got off scot-free.
However, largely as a result of the Brussels incident, coaches also are held to the ATP's uniform code of conduct. Of course, coaching still is not allowed during a match. "I just be very quiet now," says Alvarez. "I find a way."