“It’s never taken me that long to go to the bathroom ever,” yelled Andy Murray, frustrated by the length of the bathroom break taken by Stefanos Tsitsipas before the fifth set of their first-round contest which the Greek would eventually go on to win.
Seven minutes and ten seconds. That was the length of Tsitsipas’s bathroom break. Of course, Murray has never taken that long in the bathroom, ever. But is seven minutes and ten seconds too long to spend on a toilet break during a US Open match?
We all know that a number one can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. A number two, at more of a push perhaps, can also be completed in less than seven minutes and ten seconds. Changing one’s entire sweat-drenched outfit (complete with headbands and wristbands), however, could reasonably take seven minutes and ten seconds, or perhaps even longer.
The bathroom break which has created so much controversy in recent days did not actually involve a change of attire. Rather, Tsitsipas left his PE-at-primary-school-style gym bag on the court when he visited the bathroom. Armed with only a towel, Tsitsipas was solely intent on scatological business.
Unfortunately, taking an excessive amount of time in the bathroom does not break any rules in tennis. (Of course, that did not prevent Murray from calling Tsitsipas a “cheater” repeatedly during the deciding set.)
The problem is, therefore, with the rules. A set time limit (say, five minutes) with accompanying penalties for tardiness returning to the court is the obvious solution to the problem. However, solutions in tennis are hardly ever that simple.
One issue is that the facilities are not always the same distance away from each court. At some tournaments, it can take the players at least five minutes to even reach the toilet.
Considering this complication, some ex-professional players (so-called experts) have suggested that the best solution is to do away with bathroom breaks altogether. Their logic: I never needed the toilet when I played tennis, so why would anyone else? Fallacious reasoning, wouldn’t you agree?
For someone like me who has a bladder roughly the size of a marble, I could not imagine being unable to go for a toilet break during an entire match, which is likely to take multiple hours, especially given the amount of liquid that one needs to consume to remain hydrated.
This solution also fails to consider the fact that female players might experience bleeding during a match, an important nuance to the debate which is often ignored by (many male) pundits.
Tsitsipas himself has a long history of toilet-related shenanigans. In an infamous match at the Miami Open in 2018 against Daniil Medvedev, Tsitsipas’s lengthy mid-match bathroom break led to an iconic slagging off contest.
Medveev’s complaints to the umpire prompted Tsitsipas’s gloriously blunt: “Know your place. Bulls*** Russian”. Medvedev replied in similarly monosyllabic terms: ‘Man, you better shut your f*** up, OK?’
Then, earlier this month in Cincinnati, Alexander Zverev called out Tsitsipas for his lengthy bathroom behaviour. Spying Tsitsipas’s coach/father texting on his phone, he even questioned whether Tsitsipas was receiving coaching via telecommunication while he was doing his bathroom business.
Following their epic match, Murray commented: “It’s not so much leaving the court. It’s the amount of time. It’s nonsense and he knows it.” Murray doubled down on his stance the next morning with this tweet, the best part of which is surely his (hopefully deliberate) misspelling of both the name of the CEO of Amazon and the name of his Greek opponent:
So, Tsitsipas may not have broken any rules when he sat on the toilet for seven minutes and ten seconds, perhaps contemplating whether there are more things in heaven and earth than there are in his philosophy, however, he certainly lost Andy Murray’s respect.
In his second-round match against Adrian Mannarino, Tsitsipas was again booed by the New York crowd following an eight-minute bathroom break. It seems that ‘’Loo gate’ will not simply be flushed away by tennis professionals or spectators alike.
Image: Marianne Bevis via flickr