USTA and ATP to review rules as Stefanos Tsitsipas draws further ire with latest bathroom break

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Stefanos Tsitsipas said his conscience was clear over his toilet break - AP
Stefanos Tsitsipas said his conscience was clear over his toilet break - AP

Even as Stefanos Tsitsipas was performing a reprise of his infamous seven-minute bathroom break at the US Open last night, the tennis authorities were reluctantly admitting that they need to address the whole awkward issue.

Coming up with a reliable code is difficult in a sport where matches sometimes run to five hours, as it hardly seems reasonable to ban toilet visits altogether. But both the United States Tennis Association (who run the US Open) and the Association of Tennis Professionals (who run the men’s tour) have at least acknowledged the problem.

The USTA said: “We need to continue to review and explore potential adjustments to the rules, whether for bathroom breaks/change of attire or other areas, that can positively impact the pace of play for our fans and ensure the fairness and integrity of the game.”

As for the ATP, they said that “Review of rules around toilet breaks, in addition to medical time outs, has been an area of focus in recent months.” Not that this necessarily means a great deal. As Andy Murray said in the initial fiery press conference that instigated the whole debate, “ I sit on the [ATP] player council, and we speak about it all of the time … Nothing ever gets done.”

Murray was enraged by Tsitsipas leaving the court for seven minutes just before the deciding set of Monday night’s five-set thriller, later explaining that his body had cooled down and stiffened up during the delay. The following morning, he tweeted that it had taken Amazon supremo Jeff Bezos only half that time to fly into space.

Then, this morning, he tweeted gnomically again, saying “Did anything interesting happen overnight?” He was referring to Tsitsipas’s second-round match against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, in which Tsitsipas again took a seven-minute bathroom break, this time after losing the third set on a tie-break.

Mannarino was reduced to asking for some balls to use for practice serves during the delay, but still went down 6-0 in the fourth set to exit the tournament. Tsitsipas received some mild booing on his return.

In the interview room afterwards, Tsitsipas was asked so many questions about the issue that the moderator had to step in and ask for a change of theme. At this stage, Tsitsipas counter-attacked, asking one reporter about Murray’s influential bathroom break during the 2012 US Open final against Novak Djokovic. The reporter replied that Murray had taken less than three minutes.

Tsitsipas’s long bathroom breaks are a recent phenomenon. He is understood to have introduced the tactic after June’s French Open final, where Novak Djokovic had trailed by two sets to love against him. Djokovic then took a long bathroom break before switching the direction of the match.

Tsitsipas, who sweats more than most players, takes a small transparent bag off the court with him containing fresh clothing. “First of all, you carry less weight on you with all the sweat,” he said last night. “You feel rejuvenated, you feel fresh, and you don't have all the sweat bothering you and coming in your face, on your fingers, everywhere all over your body. It makes you feel better.”

As for the booing, he said “Some people don't understand. They haven't played tennis at high level to understand how much effort and how much difficult it is to do what we are doing. Sometimes we need a short break to do what we have to do.”

The issue has been debated by many other leading players, with last year’s US Open champion Dominic Thiem agreeing with Murray that the body does tend to stiffen up during these long break. World No4 Alexander Zverev went further still, suggesting that Tsitsipas had cheated by texting his father and coach Apostolos during a long bathroom break in Cincinnati last month.

On the other hand, the new American No1 Reilly Opelka was scornful of the criticism, saying: “Tennis is lame and tennis media sucks and they're terrible. The press have never stepped foot on a tennis court in their life, have never been in the environment, couldn't last 30 minutes out in this humidity, in this heat. It's physical, our sport is. My shoes are dripping, they're leaking sweat.”

Last night, British No1 Dan Evans admitted that the outcry had encouraged him to wait longer than usual before calling a medical time-out during his first-round win over Marcos Giron. “I would normally take a time-out,” said Evans, who jarred his toe late in the fourth set. “But I just thought it was a pretty crucial point in the match where it could be questionable, and I wouldn’t want people to think I was taking the time-out to interrupt the flow of the match.”

Also last night, former champion Sloane Stephens - who beat Coco Gauff in the match that immediately preceded Tsitipas-Mannarino - came up with an unconventional take. “When you're getting to six, seven, eight, nine minutes, it's like, what are you doing in there?” she said. “Do you need help? I can come help you!"

In defence of Tsitsipas' gamesmanship - he is playing well within the rules

By Thom Gibbs

What are you averaging for a toilet visit at the moment? Two minutes? Ten? Not sure? Disappointing. What were you doing during lockdowns 1-3 if not rigorously timing all of your daily activities?

Good luck beating Andy Murray’s personal best, who was incredulous at the length of Stefanos Tsitsipas’ bathroom break during his first round defeat at the US Open. Tsitipas spent seven minutes off court enjoying his legal second comfort stop of a five set match. Murray said to the umpire “It's never once taken me that long to go to the toilet,” to which some older readers may reply “just you wait.”

Beyond the titters from the tennis commentariat, many of which were basically “Ho ho ho, he said toilet!” there have been fears raised about Tsitipas’ gamesmanship. Murray compared Tsitsipas’s excretory habits with the time it took Jeff Bezos to reach space. Even while angry, Murray managed to pull off a synergistic pairing of the US Open's broadcaster with the company’s sinister overlord. What a pro.

Tistipas is a serial offender in this arena. Everyone understands that some extra curricular activities sometimes take place during bathroom breaks but Alexander Zverev accused him of receiving mid-match coaching at the Cincinnati Open in August.

We can agree, if true, this is not on, but a brief reminder of the other general rules. Changing sweaty shoes: probably fine. Placing a bet on yourself: absolutely not. Actually using the bathroom: go ahead, but hurry up. Taking your phone in with you, but it’s on aeroplane mode, then getting distracted by a game you downloaded for a long train ride which you suddenly find yourself re-addicted to and oh god it’s been 45 minutes, my feet have gone numb, I am in so much trouble. Grey area, ask a line judge.

After 48 hours of toilet break chat which could only be resolved decisively if Var became 100 per cent more scatty, opinion remains divided. On one hand are the rule-wielders, some of whom have pointed out that Murray himself benefited from well-timed toilet self-pep-talk on his way to the 2012 US Open title.

On the other are the noble defenders of the spirit of the game, equally concerned about warmed-up players cooling down and the nebulous idea of the ‘spectacle’.

The trouble with any set of sporting rules is they apply to sportspeople, the most freakishly committed and competitive among us. If they must decide between helping the sport as a whole or helping themselves athletes will generally choose the latter, particularly in the ascent stage of a career. Perhaps in your dotage the former becomes appealing, although Novak Djokovic’s infinite-bounce pre-serve routine and Rafael Nadal’s dance of a thousand fiddles, each stretching serve clocks to their limit, suggest otherwise.

Beyond tennis, gamesmanship is rife. Entire lower league football matches are lost as a spectacle because of a reluctance to appropriately punish timewasting. Painfully slow over rates kill off already scarce excitement in some Test matches. Timeouts in basketball prevent teams achieving any sort of significant momentum. In every case it is the rules and their implementation which allows such behaviour to flourish.

Getting rid of tennis’s bathroom breaks entirely has been one boneheaded suggestion, rather overlooking the obvious issues that would cause for female players. As of Thursday morning Murray seemed to still be smarting. “Did anything interesting happen overnight?” he asked on Twitter. Yes Andy, Tsitsipas had taken another lengthy break and the crowds booed him for it. In his defence it was raining so heavily that the Arthur Ashe stadium roof leaked. If you were postponing a trip to the bathroom that would be enough to set anyone off.

Surely now it is time for Murray to drop it. The crowds can boo all they like, it is all part of the pantomime. But the fault lies not with the gamesman, rather the rules they operate within. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

US Open match suspended due to storm Ida despite court with roof

There were bizarre scenes at the US Open when a night match had to be suspended due to rain - despite it being played under a roof.

Play between Kevin Anderson and Diego Schwartzman inside the Louis Armstrong Stadium was halted after the torrential rain in New York began blowing in sideways through openings under the roof.

Crowds take cover at Louis Armstrong Stadium - USA TODAY
Crowds take cover at Louis Armstrong Stadium - USA TODAY

New York was placed on tornado watch on Wednesday night after the area was hit by the remnants of tropical storm Ida.

The freak conditions forced the players off the soaking wet court while spectators had to shelter under umbrellas.

The match was initially interrupted for 35 minutes while the surface was dried but after a brief restart - during which 11th seed Schwartzman won the first set on a tie-break - a slip by the Argentine saw him call for chair umpire Nacho Forcadell, who inspected the court as fans donned plastic ponchos and held up umbrellas. The match was once again suspended and officials announced it would resume at Arthur Ashe Stadium following the tie between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Adrian Mannarino.

Severe weather saw dozens of matches postponed at the US Open on Wednesday. The second round match between former champion Angelique Kerber and Anhelina Kalinina, originally scheduled to begin after Schwartzman and Anderson, was pushed to Thursday.

The match between Tsitsipas and Mannarino was unaffected by the weather, with fans sitting comfortably inside the far more enclosed facility though rain drummed heavily on the roof.

Earlier in the day, more than two dozen doubles matches were postponed as the rain rolled in.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency advisory for the region, and parts of the plaza at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center were flooded. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency due to the "historic weather event" with record-breaking rain leading to flooding and dangerous road conditions.

Nearly all of the New York City subway lines were suspended and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) service between Flushing, Queens and Manhattan was suspended.

The Schwartzman and Anderson match resumed on Ashe around midnight, keeping fans in seats as the National Weather Service issued warnings to avoid travel, with Schwartzman wrapping up victory shortly after 1am local time with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 win.

A US Tennis Association spokesperson said tournament officials were "in very close communication" with city police and transportation officials regarding the surrounding roadways, trains and subway line connecting the venue to Midtown Manhattan.

Medvedev maintains serene start to US Open campaign

Daniil Medvedev's bid for an elusive first grand slam title continued to gain momentum as he brushed aside Dominik Koepfer.

The second seed, who was a finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2019, followed up his first-round thrashing of Richard Gasquet with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 triumph inside two hours.

Medvedev said: "It was a great level from me - there were a few tight moments in the match that I managed to hold well, and I'm really happy to be through in less than two hours."

Medvedev's compatriot Andrey Rublev, the fifth seed, found the going tougher but still emerged as an ultimately comfortable 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 6-1 winner over Pedro Martinez of Spain.

In a significant upset, world number 117 Botic Van De Zandschulp surged past eighth seed Casper Ruud 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round of a grand slam for the first time.

Fifteenth seed Grigor Dimitrov retired with a foot injury as he trailed Australia's Alexei Popyrin 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4), 4-0.

Stephens dumps out teenage sensation Gauff

Coco Gauff said her defeat to former champion Sloane Stephens at the US Open on Wednesday had highlighted the shortcomings in her game but the 17-year-old is convinced she will get her hands on a Grand Slam title one day.

The American became an overnight sensation when she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2019 as a qualifier and she has steadily climbed up the rankings, reaching number 23.

However, she was no match for 2017 champion Stephens in their first career meeting, going down 6-4 6-2 to the 28-year-old in the second round.

"The goal is always to win, so obviously I think I can do a lot better," Gauff said.

"I think today's match showed what I need to improve on.

"Singles-wise, I think I have a lot to work on. I'm going to go back to work once this is over."

Gauff said reaching a maiden quarter-final at the French Open was the standout for her in 2021, during which she also made the fourth round at Wimbledon.

"I feel like I've learned that I'm capable of making it far in slams," said Gauff, who also won her first WTA claycourt title in Parma this year. "I think if I tighten up a few things, that I'm capable of winning one.

"The past couple of slams I've lost to players that have gone to the quarters or won eventually, so it shows that I'm there.

"I feel like there's just an experience lacking that I have. I definitely think it shows. I think that I just need to play more matches so I feel more comfortable on the pressure moments."