What makes tennis a unique sport? You can play it for a lifetime, it tests you technically, physically and mentally. There is also no clock telling you it is physically impossible to make a comeback. There is no coaching during non-team play either. All of these aspects are unique to tennis, but there are a couple of other sports that this applies to as well.
What makes tennis the most unique? You are allowed to leave the court in the middle of the match to use the bathroom! And it seems like tennis players need to do this more than athletes in any other sport. Go us!
Of course, I’m being tongue-in-cheek here, but really ... how did we get to this point? Do racecar drivers go for a “pit stop” when the car is in a pit stop? Have you ever seen an athlete in another sport actually leave the field of play to use a restroom? Why does tennis have a loophole in the rules that allows a player to take a bathroom break when they are really just being used as a cheap, lame and unskilled tactic in an attempt to change the momentum in a match?
Over the last 30 years as a sport, tennis has transformed from people giggling in their living rooms when Jimmy Connors took a bathroom break during the 1983 U.S. Open finals (rumors were he met with a doctor for an injury), to it really just being a commonly used momentum changer in 2015. It’s so commonly used, coaches and parents openly tell their kids in front of other people, “You should have taken a bathroom break to change the momentum of the match.”
In the 2015 version of the “Friend at Court” rulebook, it says: “Toilet breaks are allowed when an official determines the need is genuine. They should be taken at set breaks unless there is a true emergency, in which case the break preferably is taken during an odd game changeover, but may be taken immediately.”
I take three things from this rule:
1. The person who came up with it was exasperated and had their hands in the air and just didn’t know what to write.
2. The on-court official is supposed to be a body language expert in the art of telling when somebody has to go to the bathroom.
3. You should hold it in, but wait until the end of a set. If you cannot hold it in, just wait until a changeover, but if that makes you too uncomfortable, to heck with it … just leave the court whenever you want.
Really? According to the rule, I can take a bathroom break at match point to ice my opponent? Something is not right about this whole thing.
I hate when people complain, but don’t have a solution. So, here is my fail-safe solution to keep bathroom breaks to an absolute minimum. If somebody takes a bathroom break during the match, the other player is only allowed instruction from a coach, player or friend during the duration of the bathroom break. This rule doesn’t say it cannot be done, but it can be enough of a deterrent that somebody might think twice about going. It’s just harsh enough of a penalty that the outcome of the match is still settled on the court, but going to the bathroom to change momentum doesn’t seem like cheating anymore. It also takes the pressure off an official to determine if “the need is genuine.”
Some may say that it would be too hard to implement, too radical or non-traditional, but it really wouldn’t. Both players would leave the court and report to the desk if there is no on-court official and the desk would oversee that the non-bathroom attending player is the only one to get coaching. It would also be fun in the pros to mic-up a coach to hear what is said. If it seems too radical, it’s not. A famous sports radio talk-show host once laughed and hung up on a caller who had the idea of giving home-field advantage the league that wins the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and sure enough, baseball implemented the rule a year later. For those who think coaching breaks the tennis tradition of no-coaching ... well, so do bathroom breaks! Anything so I don’t have to utter the coaching wisdom to my students “I don’t believe in bathroom breaks!”
Ricky Becker is director of tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club and independently coaches high-performance juniors year-round at Bethpage State Park and Jericho/Westbury Tennis where he is the junior tournament director. He can be reached by phone at (516) 605-0420, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JuniorTennisConsulting.com.