Jenson Brooksby and Taylor Fritz advanced against foreign talent Michael Ymer (Sweden) and Alex de Maur (Australia), respectively, leading a thirteen-man charge into the second round in the men’s draw of the U.S. Open, the best American start for our side since 1994. The success of young players in their 20s bodes well for the sport’s future in at least one Anglosphere country, where rules and fair play still matter.
As it happens, the first day was disturbed when an Anglosphere player and future Hall of Famer, Andy Murray, complained that his opponent was showing disrespect for the sport.
Murray, winner here in 2012, against Novak Djokovic, put on arguably the best first-round show, taking world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in a match that, as Murray himself remarked, would have gone the other way (to wit, his) but for a point here or there. And was that point really found in that last ounce of heart and nerve and sinew — or something less pure?
Andy Murray, playing with an artificial hip about which he never complains, is known to be vocal when he finds dishonor or injustice. He is a gentleman and a fair-play man, qualities one increasingly searches for in vain, and not only in tennis or even in sports generally but across the broad expanse of human activity.
Murray and Tsitsipas, 34 and 23, are both breathtakingly exciting players, who race across the court to catch a winner, somehow retrieve it, and whack back a winner of their own. Both are net men as well as baseline sluggers, and it was obvious the match depended on efforts everywhere on the court. And thus there was some justification for Andy Murray’s complaint, not about the way Tsitsipas played, but about the way he did not play.
Tsitsipas took several long bathroom breaks, changed racquets in the middle of a game, and took a medical time out that may or may not have been in response to real pain in his foot but which, just as with the breaks, seemed coincidentally on purpose timed to stop Murray’s momentum.
The questions raised here are not new and, full disclosure, TAS is on record, for as long as there have been bad answers to them, to abolish medical timeouts and bathroom breaks. Tsitsipas appeared to take advantage of the rules as they stand, and the embarrassment with which he later defended himself by saying he always follows the rules suggests he either thinks they are hooey or he knows they can be abused.
Tennis is a sport of momentum as well as endurance, and even in a match lasting about four hours, as this one did, if you break someone’s surge you may be subverting the next twenty minutes during which he might have built a comfortable lead. Even stopping a service advantage for the minute or two it takes to change racquets on the flimsy excuse there is a broken string can be a game changer, so when you take a ten-minute bathroom break or ask for a medical person to come over and tape a blister on your foot and give you an aspirin, you are — cheating?
Strictly, no, you are still within the rules. But Murray had every right to be vexed. As had, to take a recent example that shows this is not a gender-specific issue, Ajla Tomljanovic. In a match at Wimbledon last July the Australian lass audibly accused Jelena Ostapenko — a past winner of the French Open — of lying about needing a physio-trainer in the middle of a game. (Miss T. went on to win anyway, but they gave each other snake eyes, and when one said something, the other replied with “You’re one to talk!” which in a lady is a sure sign of unforgiving contempt.)
Our position at TAS, which Mr. Pleszczynski and I reached after a lengthy review of the evidence in a number of controversial cases, is that there should be no medical timeouts. If you are hurt or indisposed, well, you are free to throw in the towel. And as to bathroom breaks, since admittedly over several hours their refusal could itself become a medical issue, our position is that tournaments should install small canvas tents behind the ump’s chair and the players would enter them with no objects in their hands. (The implied accusation against long-johnners is that they find a hidden message — or even a cell phone — under the commode or washbowl and get the how-to signal from their coach.)
For changing sweat-soaked clothes — Stefanos Tsitsipas explains he sweats a lot — there is no reason not to just do it on court, thanks to the modesty afforded by those canvas tents.
This time at least, the surfeit of rules — a known problem in our society — means Murray is out and Tsitsipas advances. Meanwhile, the early American success means there will be a clash of Californians tomorrow, as Taylor Fritz, who is from Rancho Santa Fe, will meet Jenson Brooksby, who is from Sacramento and Waco (Baylor). Mr. Pleszczynski is from Santa Barbara, but he informs me this bears zero relevance to the story, and he is a no-nonsense editor. He may have played top tennis in high school, but so did I, and he is right, both facts are irrelevant. I played with a Dunlop Maxply and he swung a Wilson Jack Kramer, which is even more irrelevant, though I might note this is the wooden Pro-Staff we are talking about, not the newfangled graphite model that any — but no, that too is irrelevant, apart from not so.
Not that anyone is listening to us. But Mr. P is delighted to watch two young sundrenched Californians going up against each other’s best effort for a place in the third round. And there will be none of the recriminations that soil so many domains in our increasingly savage world, even that center of civility and fair play that is the Billie Jean King Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows, in Queens, New York.
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