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 official coaching during Grand Slams either. All of these aspects are unique, 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 race car 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 way to try and change the momentum in a match?
Over the last 30 years, 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. 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 USTA Friend at Court 2019 Handbook, it says, “A toilet/change of attire break consists of a reasonable amount of time when an official determines that there is genuine need. No coaching is allowed during a toilet/change of attire break … When possible, these breaks should be taken during a set break. If this is not possible, then the break should be taken at an odd game changeover. Breaks taken at other times should be limited to true emergencies.”
I take three things from this rule:
1. The person who came up with it was exasperated, had his/her 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 and wait until the end of a set … but if that doesn’t work and you can’t hold it in, then just wait until a change-over … 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? Yeah, 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, only the other player is allowed instruction from a coach, player or friend during the duration of the bathroom break. This rule doesn’t say it can’t 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 even non-traditional, but it really isn’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. For those who think coaching breaks the tennis tradition of no-coaching … well, so do bathroom breaks! Anything so I don’t have to again utter the coaching wisdom to my students: “I don’t believe in bathroom breaks!”
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club. He independently coaches high-performance juniors and adults of all-levels year-round at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. He has coached hundreds of ranked junior players. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Tennis Teams, and was ranked number four in the United States in the 18 & Under Division.