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Mailbag: Should There Be a Standard Rule for Mid-Match Breaks?

Plus more headlines from the first days of the 2021 U.S. Open.

We are two days in. We have been spoiled for choice matches. We’ve seen some extraordinary tennis—with precious few upsets. We’ve an extraordinary (unprecedented?) variety of players, physiques and styles. If this is what the post-Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal Era looks like, we’ll be okay here, folks. And Wednesday is Mailbag Day so here goes.

Onward …


Stefanos Tsitsipas

Why not just have a scheduled five-minute mid-match break and that’s all you get? Of course, this doesn’t stop the phantom injury—nothing will—but then the idea of a warm-up hitter makes sense there.

• For all the extraordinary matches, the Murray-Tsitsipas five-set opera may be one of the top—and, of course, the great takeaway was Tsitsipas’s extended bathroom break. We’re all in favor of a rule. (We had Dominic Thiem on Tennis Channel who advocated for a time limit of five minutes.)

But I wonder … here's what might stop the phantom injuries: the reputation market. When opponent after opponent declares that they have lost respect for you (and fans follow suit), wouldn’t that be more likely to chill your gamesmanship than a rulebook tweak?

Maybe the person who doesn’t leave the court should be permitted to consult with their coach and/or hit with their hitting partner during the break.
Mary B.

• Exactly. Why punish the fit/conditioned/well-bladdered player who ISN’T taking the break? Let the player remaining on the court stay warm, hit with a coach, etc. The rules are vague, referencing only a “reasonable” time for a bathroom break (two for best-of-five matches). If the opponent is going to leave the court, the other player should be given some benefit.

Jon, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys played in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday. This was a rematch of the 2017 U.S. Open final. How many times, if any, have two players faced one another across their careers in both the first round and final of the same major???
Dan B from Baltimore, Md.

• We’ve seen this before. But never, I believe, when *neither* player was seeded. The irony: When the two played in the U.S. Open final—a mere four years ago—Sloane won 6–3, 6–0 in a rough watch of a match. Yesterday, with considerably lesser stakes, the match ended 7–6 in the third.

Hi Jon. Hope you are well and enjoying the first round. Speaking of which, is Stefanos Tsitsipas in danger of becoming the guy with the beautiful game but the insufferable personality?
Duane Wright

• Man, he might be ranked No.3, but his popularity ranking is nosediving. Insufferable is too harsh. I’m inclined to like anyone who brings creative sensibilities. But between the COVID-19 stance and the gamesmanship, yeah, it’s been a rough summer. As reader Srikanth put it within a few minutes of Duane’s note: “Careers are long, of course, and Tsitsipas has plenty of time to rehabilitate his image. But he has some work to do.”

Jon, can we put a lid on "Kyrgios can win (insert match or tournament here)"? Dude went down tamely as expected to an elite competitor in RBA...He can do some fancy stuff, but can't string together 3-4 basic rallies. The allure of the spotlight seems to have gotten the better of him, but I do hope he turns it around mentally soon.

• Yeah, just start the documentary now. Kyrgios is now out of the top 100. He went down to Roberto Bautista Agut—a pro, but one in the throes of a rough year—winning fewer games than he ever had at a major match. The “he’s-so-talented-when-will-he-put-it-together?” conversation has officially curdled.

This must be like the 50th time I've written but you are one of my favorite tennis experts and just wanted your opinion. I am a fan of Alexander Zverev and wanted your take on where things stand on the allegations against him. What are the facts? I find the allegations disturbing but at the same time, they are just that, allegations. It bothers me that Twitter has once again rushed to judgment (shocker!). If it turns out he's actually guilty, I have a lot of thinking to do. But until I get all the information I won't condemn him. Finally, is the ATP actually investigating or what? I feel they have totally botched this up.

P.S. I will say it's remarkable he is in such fine form amidst all this!
Keith Jacobson

• I was just writing this to a friend who asked a similar question. We’re at a stalemate here and I’m not sure how it gets broken. These are allegations and they are unaccompanied by legal proceedings or an investigation. At the same time, these allegations do come rich in detail; they come with supporting evidence; they come with corroborating accounts. Both Zverev and his accuser are doubling down on their stories—one of them is dead-wrong/lying. Zverev’s allies will say: “Due process: innocent until proven guilty.” His detractors will say: “What? If you had an NBA or NFL player facing this fact pattern, they would not be playing.” I suppose my answer distills to: You have to figure out your threshold here and what level of uncertainty you’re comfortable accepting.

Your other point is correct and bears emphasis. This notion of “why didn’t she pursue charges?” is misguided and should not be the standard. There are all sorts of reasons why abuse victims don’t go to the police. In this case, you have alleged assaults all over the world, a woman who doesn’t speak English as a first language and is, by her own admission, traumatized. If she doesn’t want to cross oceans and get cross-examined in a non-native tongue, do you blame her? If the ATP had a responsible policy, we wouldn’t be here. They—or better yet an independent body—would have investigated. And we could lean on that, one way or the other.

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And yes, that Zverev is playing so well doesn’t go to his guilt or innocence. But it does speak well of his powers of compartmentalization.

In both your U.S. Open insider tips and seed reports, you mention that Serena, Venus, Federer, Nadal and Thiem will all be absent from this year's Open. But there's another former U.S. Open champ who's much-loved, thrilling to watch, and unfortunately sidelined this year because of injury. Don't forget Stan! I don't think you're the only person who's overlooked him recently when totting up who's missing. I don't know when he'll return or if he'll ever reach the heights again, but he is definitely missed. Everything I said about Stan also applies to Juan Martin del Potro, but his absence feels a little different because he's been out of action for more than two years.

• As we write this, there’s one former major champ—Novak Djokovic—left in the men’s draw. Either he wins the Grand Slam or we have a first-time major winner. Remarkable. On the women’s side, as I write this, there are a dozen former major winners. (And that’s with the Williams sisters, Sofia Kenin, Jelena Ostapenko and Svetlana Kuznetsova absent.) As for Stan Wawrinka, yes, he hasn’t played in a while. And hasn’t won a major since U.S. Open 2016. But his absence should not—and does not—go unnoticed.

Depending on the outcome of one suspended men's qualies match and/or withdrawals it looks as though there will be 21 or 22 U.S. men in the first round main draw at the U.S. Open. Looking for the historic record but that has to be the most in a very, very long time.
Leif Wellington Haase

• The tennis ogre notes that there is no U.S. player in the top 20 (now that John Isner is out—fittingly, to ascending American Brandon Nakashima) so quantity outstrips quality. But some real bright spots. And this Sebastian Korda–Nakashima–Jenson Brooksby troika is real.

The finalists are below for this year’s “Best Breakouts of the U.S. Open Series.” You just need to pick one man and one woman—no need for an explanation for your choices.


Jenson Brooksby: Newport Final, D.C. Semifinals
Brandon Nakashima: Atlanta Final, D.C. QFs
Reilly Opelka: First Masters 1000 final in Toronto


Camila Giorgi: First 1000-level title in Montreal
Jil Teichmann: First 1000-level final in Cincinnati
Sara Sorribes Tormo: QFs Montreal, SFs+ Cleveland

• The only thing I hate more than journalists filling out ballots is journalists filling out ballots without accountability. So for the record, I chose Opelka (Toronto finalist) and Giorgi (Montreal winner).

Hi Jon…the W&S Open was a fun time, and I will go back…for evening sessions! The weather was brutal, and some players handled it better than others. Any idea how much time top players spend on off-court conditioning vs. lower ranked?
Kelly G., Louisville, Ky.

• If I’m the Tennis Commissioner, I’m putting a panel together to discuss how climate change could impact the sport; and what can be done. Extreme heat has become an annual story line/complication in Australia. In Tokyo, Medvedev wondered who would take responsibility in the event he died on court. In Cincy, we had torrential rain and biblical heat. (Or was it biblical heat and torrential rain?) Climate change is a real issue—the real issue—of our day. It is writ miniature in tennis. As for your question, I’m not sure the training is any different between top and lower players. In fact, I’ve heard one former star remark that lower players are often better conditioned. They often play more matches, scrambling as they are for points. They play all over the world. They don’t have the luxury of requesting cool times and night matches. They might not control much, but they do control their fitness/conditioning and maximize it accordingly.

Perplexed by the reference to Diego’s weight. He isn’t exactly scrawny and he certainly isn’t overweight. His weight/height seem proportionate, and his groundstrokes relatively powerful. What do you mean?

• We talk a lot about Schwartzman’s height. But he’s also listed—generously—at 141 lbs. That’s an awful lot of weight being spotted to most opponents. (F=MA and all.) As you note, his strokes are relatively powerful. This is all to his credit.


More Tennis Coverage:

2021 U.S. Open Seed Reports
Serena and Venus Williams Withdraw From 2021 U.S. Open
• Insider Tips for Attending the 2021 U.S. Open