Call it “Toilet-Gate” – the fascinating fuss that dominated conversation during the first week of the U.S. Open in – why of course — Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
The big names like Novak Djokovic on the men’s side, and Ash Barty on the women’s, advanced comfortably through the early rounds but watching them was not nearly as much fun as timing bathroom breaks and speculating about what might be going on behind stall doors.
This all began because Stefanos Tsitsipas, the No. 3 player in the world, disappeared for what seemed like long stretches during his opening round match against Andy Murray.
There were bathroom breaks after the second and fourth sets and a medical break after the third set. One break lasted eight minutes, frustrating Murray, who could have done a crossword puzzle waiting for the match to resume. Tsitsipas took another eight-minute break in his second-round match against Adrian Mannarino, who practiced serves while his opponent was away.
Grand Slam tennis permits two bathroom breaks and puts no time limit on them. What it prohibits, however, is in-match coaching and when Tsitsipas’ father, who doubles as his coach, was seen urgently texting away on his mobile phone during his son’s absences, why, that raised some eyebrows.
Could this be a communications scheme? Tsitsipas was outraged at the suggestion that he would bend the rules that way. He called the charge “absolutely ridiculous.’’ Other players, however, were not amused, especially when Tsitsipas’ tennis tactics changed when he returned to the court after his extended breaks.
Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev, ranked No. 4, recalled Tsitsipas taking a long pause during the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, a warmup for the U.S. Open and said the same strategy surfaced in the French Open, third jewel in the Grand Slam crown, as well.
So what is going on here?
Nothing naughty, according to Tsitsipas.
He explained that he used the breaks to refresh himself, sometimes changing sweat-soaked outfits for clean ones. He called it recalibrating himself.
It was not clear if Papa Tsitsipas was doing his own recalibrating during the breaks.
The rules do not specify how much time is permitted for a bathroom break. So Tsitsipas takes as much time as he needs. Sometimes, a long time.
It should be noted, however, that so far he has not used the time for a quick recalibrating shower.
Not yet, anyway.