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Tennis player rants about opponent’s 8-minute bathroom break at U.S. Open: ‘It’s never once taken me that long’

Stefanos Tsitsipas, left, and Andy Murray shake hands at the net following their first-round match at the U.S. Open on Aug. 31. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The prospect of tennis veteran Andy Murray making a comeback at this year’s U.S. Open was fading as the Scot found himself two games down in the fifth set of his first-round match.

He was also annoyed that his 23-year-old opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, had shuffled off the court to use the bathroom two games earlier — and stayed in there, reportedly, for eight minutes.

Frustrated, Murray berated a tournament supervisor.

“It’s never once taken me that long to go to the toilet, ever,” Murray said.

Tsitsipas eventually beat Murray in five sets, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. After the match on Monday, Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, did not mince words about his opponent’s bathroom break. While Murray praised Tsitsipas, the No. 3 seed and among the favorites to win the title, as a “brilliant player” and “great for the game,” he also said he had “lost respect for him.”

“It’s just disappointing because I feel it influenced the outcome of the match,” Murray said.

In tennis, the question comes up almost as often as the tournaments themselves: Are players abusing the toilet breaks?

According to the Grand Slam rule book, a player in a five-set match is entitled to two breaks to use the toilet or to change attire. The breaks must be taken only between sets and “for no other reason.” The rules do not specify a time limit, only that it should be “reasonable.”

The older generation of tennis players has, in the past, expressed frustration at how younger players have used the break.

“It’s gotten completely out of hand,” John McEnroe, a seven-time Grand Slam champion who is now a commentator, said during the 2014 Wimbledon Championships, according to the New York Times. “Most of the times, it’s when someone loses a set. Very rarely does it happen that you go out when you’re winning.”

But for younger generations of players, the bathroom break appears to be just another weapon, like a scorching forehand or serve.

Despite Murray’s rant Monday, he strategically used a bathroom break to his advantage at the U.S. Open nine years ago, cementing his place in tennis history.

The career-changing restroom detour happened in 2012 when Murray faced off against Novak Djokovic in the final.

Murray won the first two sets against the Serb but dropped the next two. As the momentum shifted to Djokovic, Murray was in danger of losing the match to Djokovic, who was then a major rival.

During the break, Murray went to the bathroom.

He came back and won the tournament. It was his first Grand Slam win, among the highest achievements in the sport and one that had eluded him until that moment. He has credited his turnaround to the bathroom pep talk he gave himself during the break.

Djokovic, who is chasing the first men’s calendar-year Grand Slam in 52 years, himself could be deemed one of the masters of the bathroom break.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of Djokovic’s Grand Slam matches found that, since 2013, he has taken a dozen bathroom breaks, with all but one during a tense match. In 10 of the 12 matches, Djokovic won the following set. The Journal concluded that Djokovic had an 83.3 percent success rate after a trip to the restroom.

“You mainly use this moment to reset yourself mentally, changing your environment,” Djokovic said at this year’s French Open, where he claimed his 19th Grand Slam title. “Even if it’s a short break, you can have a few deep breaths and come back as a new player.”

Tsitsipas, for his part, finds himself in a similar place as Murray did a decade ago: chasing his first Grand Slam title.

In May, the world’s No. 3-ranked player faced Djokovic in the French Open final. Tsitsipas took the first two sets. With only one more, the tournament would be his.

Before the start of the third set, however, Djokovic took a bathroom break. The world No. 1 came back and won the tournament.

“I don’t know what happened there, but he came back, to me, like a different player, suddenly,” Tsitsipas said after the match. “He played really well, he gave me no space … I felt he could read my game suddenly.”

Tsitsipas’s toilet break on Monday appeared to have a similar effect on Murray.

Although current champions like Djokovic apparently wield the bathroom break to great effect, past champions say the breaks are being abused. Chris Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and retired in 1989, said during a 2017 ESPN broadcast that she wanted to do away with the rule.

“In my 18 years of playing, I don’t ever remember leaving the court to go to the bathroom,” Evert said. “I never left once and a woman could leave for specific purposes. But I never left once.”