Since always, the question of the breaks awarded to the players for them to respond to a natural need has sparked controversy. If some of them seem sincere, others make the most of them to get a grip and overturn a result in their favor. Here’s an anthology of the toilet breaks which have made history.
10. Patrick McEnroe / Thomas Högstedt, Australian Open, 1991
In the McEnroe family, we’re most likely to remember Stormy John. But John had a brother, Patrick, who described himself as more serene and calm than his older brother. A good player in the doubles - he won Roland-Garros in 1989 with Jim Grabb - he never managed to enter the Top 20 in the singles. In 1991, during the first round of the Australian Open, Patrick faced the Swede Thomas Högstedt. After having lost the first two sets (4-6 4-6), McEnroe asked one of the ballboys to lead him to the toilets. Högstedt waited for five long minutes before seeing Patrick coming back. Only problem, the Swede lost all of his focus and let his opponent win three sets in a row quite easily (6-3 6-1 6-3). At the end of the match, Thomas was fuming « of course it played a role ! I had the match in hand and after that long pause, I lost everything ! »
9. Rafael Nadal / Mikhail Kukushkin, Wimbledon, 2014
Even the greatest champions sometimes need to relieve themselves. During the 2014 edition of Wimbledon, the toilet breaks have been more frequent than usual. One of them was much written about. As he had just lost the first set of his third round match against Mikhail Kukushkin, Rafael Nadal asked the umpire if he could use the bathroom. Granted. The rest ? Rafa won the three following sets on a ruthless score, 6-1. « I needed to use the bathroom, that’s all. I took a t-shirt and a bandana because I needed to change there, that’s it. I didn’t want to do anything else than a toilet break », the Spanish champion defended himself immediately after the match. On his side, Mikhail Kukushkin didn’t wish to answer the question on the matter. An example which comforts the « a pee for a win » theory.
8. Roger Federer / Nikolay Davydenko, Australien Open, 2010
In 2010, Nikolay Davydenko had made quite a sensation by having a run-in with the great Roger Federer, who was looking to qualify for a 23rd semi-final in a row in a major tournament. After having lost the first set and conceding his serve at the start of the second, the Swiss asked for a toilet break to get a grip. Once he returned, the champion overturned the result, to finally win the three following sets (2-6 6-3 6-0 7-5). After the match, the Swiss himself confessed that he took advantage of the toilet break to wait for the sun to stop bothering him… « The sun was blinding me during the first set. I wanted to wait for it to go down. I never use my toilet breaks so I thought it would be a good idea to do it, to wait until the sun moved a few centimeters away », he explained, visibly happy with his method.
7. Andy Murray / Kevin Anderson, US Open, 2015
If some players manage to keep their cal when their opponents go to the loo, it’s not Andy Murray’s case. During the fourth round of the US Open 2015, the Brit was facing the South-African Kevin Anderson. After a first set lost during the tie-break, Andy literally lost the plot after seeing his opponent go to the bathroom at the start of the second set. He then started to scream on the court : « Fuck ! Fuck ! ». After the umpire asked him to calm down, Andy started yelling at them : « Go on ! Give me a warning ! » After completely losing his focus, the champion didn’t fight for the match (7-6 6-3 6-7 7-6). After the match, Anderson preferred not to say anything other than : « Andy is a true warrior and a great player. » It was probably best not to add fuel to the fire.
6. Pedro Sousa / Victor Hănescu, qualifications ATP 250, 2015
You can be a tennis player and love football. The only problem is, when a football match is being played at the same time as your own. Being a great Benfica fan, the Portuguese Pedro Sousa says he never misses one of his team’s games. It’s nothing to say that he’s pretty much ready to do anything to support his team. Last year, as he was playing a qualifications match against Victor Hanescu, Pedro Sousa asked the umpire if he could take a toilet break. Did he really go for a pee ? Not at all. He made the most of the umpire’s clemency to check the score of a Benfica/Porto game. « I was relieved to see it was 0-0 », he said at the end of the match. In the end, Sousa won his match and Benfica were crowned as Portuguese champions. All’s well that ends well ! Except for Hănescu, of course.
5. Anna Kournikova / Jana Novotna, Roland-Garros, 1998
In 1998, Anna Kournikova was only 16 and was learning to apprehend the difficult laws of the world of tennis. Facing Jana Novotna in the fourth round, the Russian has seen her request for a toilet break declined while the sun was setting down. According to the umpire, the player simply wanted to gain a little time so the match could be postponed to the next day. In the end, it was only a few minutes afterwards that the match was stopped because of the night, at the request of her opponent, Novotna, who sealed the match in only fifteen minutes the next morning (6-7, 6-3, 6-3). After the match, Kournikova was still fuming. « They stopped another match one hour before ours, saying that it was darker there, a few meters away from us ! And I really needed to go to the bathroom, it was the first time that it happened to me. I’ll think about asking the WTA when I can go pee from now on. »
4. Heather Watson / Timea Babos, Australian Open, 2016
If men sometimes need to relieve themselves, women can have other troubles on tennis courts. At the very start of 2016, the British number 1, Heather Watson, lost in the first round of the Australian Open against Timea Babos (6-7 7-5 7-5). At the end of the match, Watson put her finger on an issue which hadn’t been discussed before : she argued that her defeat was due to her « women issues ». Her period, yes. A few days later, Annabel Croft, an ex-professional player, said : « We never dare to evoke the subject. We talk about sex, big breasts, but never about that. I understand that it is a little uncomfortable but it’s a great thing to break the taboo. »
3. Milos Raonic / Jack Sock, BNP Paribas Masters, Paris, 2014
Like it’s been said before, sometimes, the players get annoyed at their opponents’ breaks, judged too long or too frequent. Sometimes, the supporters themselves get angry and make their player aware of it. In 2014, Milos Raonic was playing his first round in Paris against the American Jack Sock. After having won the first set quite easily, he lost the second before asking a ballboy to take him to the bathroom. But as he was only awarded a three-minute break, Raonic came back after at least ten minutes, explaining that the first toilet he walked into didn’t have a toilet seat. « I didn’t want to do squats », he explained in the post-match press conference.
2. Ana Ivanovic / Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Generali Ladies Linz, 2010
It’s quite rare but sometimes, toilet breaks which are judged too long can lead to sanctions for the players involved. In 2010, after having won her very first serve against Barbora Strycova, Ana Ivanovic asked for a break. Granted. However, she took more than three minutes to relieve herself. When she came back, Ivanovic realized that the score was no longer 1-0, but 1-1. The umpire, scrupulous, had given her a penalty point for every 20 seconds spent in the bathroom after the three-minute limit. A misfortune which didn’t stop the champion from winning the match easily (6-3 6-2).
1. Cuevas and Granollers / Jonny Marray and Adil Shamasdin, Wimbledon, 2016
It’s the highlight of this Wimbledon 2016, which has revived the debate on the toilet breaks awarded to the players. During a Dantean match between the pairs Cuevas/Granollers and Marray/Shamasdin, which the latter have finally won (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 14-12), Cuevas has seen his request for a toilet break in the last set, at 8-9, declined. After a vigorous protest, Cuevas would have peed in a ball pot - an information which officially denied by the organizers. At 12-13, he refused to play the last points. Ten minutes of negotiation were needed to resume play.
By Gabriel Cnudde