Comfort breaks have become a tactical ploy to mess with the opponent’s head as well as provide a player in need of a short, sharp ‘time-out’ with just the jolt back to reality needed. Yes, at times it works, at others not so.
In the melting pot atmosphere, it’s inevitable at times to lose your way over the course of a match. Taken as an extended bridge between sets, a momentary pause, such breaks often see one player left on the court, all rhythm previously built being broken, the player looking a little lost at having more than ninety seconds in the changeover. The longer the wait for the player to return the worse it gets, the not knowing when play will start again a form of torture. By the time the player who took leave of the court returns, which seems to be from anything between a couple to well over five minutes, the entire atmosphere has changed (see multiple cases) as well as the mindset of each player. The one left stranded on his or her chair at courtside, waiting, has had far too long to stare into space considering the position they had just worked their way into.
Occasionally, a comfort break might be taken for its genuine purpose, but mostly it doesn’t feel that way. The changeovers never feel like any form of break, only when someone leaves the court is it noticeable to all – a ‘switching off’ of any rhythm or tempo. Just what the person who lost the previous set needed, and the opposite for the one in the ascendency, the one who had the momentum on their side. There is also the rare occasion in which both players leave the court at the same time – which feels like the second player matching the psychological hand the other player has dealt them – taking their own extended break to re-focus their mind on what is to come next, whilst in a slightly calmer environment without the noise. Then it can feel like whoever emerges last still has the upper hand, and there are increasingly profound psychological considerations. It’s certainly tactical, and it has become a part of the game that really needs to be curbed.
As it’s a difficult topic to question the legitimacy of, in each case, it is a rule that goes on unchanged. Many examples, however, push the envelope of what is credible and sportsmanlike. Perhaps the rules should remain but with tighter guidelines. It certainly needs addressing though, as stopping the flow of a match as it reaches its climax (as in most cases) has no benefit to most and in fact unfairly spoils many a moment in great tennis matches. Where there are questionable examples of gamesmanship and rules being bent and twisted inside out there needs to be a constant reviewing process that adapts these rules to stamp out such behaviour. It’s a desperate tactic to get a psychological edge over an opponent in such a way, but it does work.
For those who take a comfort break for its legitimate purpose, it seems unfortunate to have seen it become the opportunity it now has. As with inter-match coaching, abusive language and bad behaviour on court, the extended pauses for drinks when it isn’t the correct time and much more, it needs to be monitored and controlled a little better. When something is so blatantly to the detriment of the sport, and individual matches, in the grand scheme of things it can only be beneficial if such rules are amended.