Roger Alton

The absurdity of tennis players’ toilet breaks

The absurdity of tennis players’ toilet breaks
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Forgive the personal question, but how long does it take you to, you know, go to the gents, ladies, non-binary? Quite what Stefanos Tsitsipas was doing in there in any of his numerous toilet breaks during the epic first-round US Open encounter with Andy Murray at Flushing (geddit?) Meadows is anybody’s guess. It clearly riled Murray — never the hardest thing to do — who was playing as well as ever, and is the ironman, quite literally, of Grand Slam tennis. He has also rather wittily pointed out that Jeff Bezos can get into space and back again more quickly than Tsitsipas can go to the loo.

There is something pleasingly humdrum about the world no. 3 grabbing a paper from his bag and wandering off to the gents. Who hasn’t done that at work? But as the match with Murray must surely count as a ‘meeting’, nipping off for a ‘comfort break’ is downright rude.

This chaos (to put it kindly — Murray called it ‘cheating’) should be stopped: point penalties after a certain time, for example.

Cricket needs a change of mindset. The real problem with the current atomisation of the game is that it has pigeonholed a lot of players into white-ball specialists, and red-ball cricketers. The best players can play all forms of the game: why should someone not score runs for Birmingham Phoenix on a Sunday and then start a Test on Thursday? There are too many teams to play for in too many leagues, and, besides, how many badges can one player kiss in a calendar year?

Players seem to regard Test cricket as the pinnacle. But that probably applies only to England, Australia, New Zealand and India. The retired and the unemployed look on first-class cricket as sacred and the 18 counties as sacrosanct as the 12 apostles. But the reality is that short-form cricket is the cash cow, jazzed up with cool kit, ads for Hula Hoops, ‘Sweet Caroline’ and yet more fancy dress. Who knew that the only way to enjoy cricket was to be dressed as a prawn?

The image of Ted Dexter as simply an archetypal English public schoolboy was laid to rest — alongside the great man — by the many illuminating obituaries of the past week. Not least because he did as much as anyone to invent the modern game with the Rothmans Cavaliers in the 1960s, a roaming collection of top international cricketers, a sort of World Xl, playing 40-over games to packed houses on a Sunday, and televised by the BBC. Hello World Series Cricket, T20 and The Hundred.

Although Lord Ted’s love of the sport of kings was well chronicled, his real passion, I am told by one of his golfing buddies, was greyhound racing. But he did love his horses. And he did have style. ‘Once,’ said my friend, ‘we played golf at Denham in the morning and his plane was in the adjacent airfield. Ted said there was a meeting at Newbury later and we should go because he wanted to look at a particular horse running in the Greenham Stakes. He rang Newbury and arranged for us to land on the course between the first and second races. We watched the Greenham and then flew back to Denham.’ As you do.

Is rugby union heading for the equivalent of a Courtney Lawes bone-crusher? If this week’s study showing that playing for just one season is enough to affect the brain gains traction, then it certainly looks that way. And there will be more studies — you can be sure of that. The game has to shape-shift now to survive. The cheques that Rupert Murdoch paid out for phone-hacking will start to look pretty puny compared to what the RFU might have to shell out if Steve Thompson and his fellow former pros prove their case.