Heather Watson was not complaining, but there could be little doubt that the last remaining British player in singles competition here at the French Open suffered as the result of one of the most frequently abused rules in tennis.
Watson had just levelled her first-round match by taking the second set against Stefanie Vögele when her Swiss opponent took a toilet break, as players are entitled to do. The momentum had been with Watson, but when the match resumed Vögele immediately broke serve and went on to win the match 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
“Girls do it all the time,” Watson said afterwards when asked about the break. “It’s just the norm. Maybe she did need to go, but I should have been focused and ready for whatever.”
While Watson did not offer the interruption to her rhythm as an excuse, it was a twist she could have done without in her first match for more than two months following glandular fever. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old from Guernsey should be more than satisfied with her typically tenacious display at a time when she is clearly short of peak fitness and is having to go easy on her training. Against an opponent ranked just eight places lower than her at No 56 in the world, Watson gave as good as she got for nearly two hours. “I’m pleased with how I played in the second and third sets,” she said. “I was aggressive. I was hitting it.”
Watson coped well physically – “I’m not as fit as I should be, but I felt good, got through it fine” – though she suffered with an elbow problem which has troubled her in the past. She also admitted she had trouble maintaining her concentration. “I was finding it tough to string points together and focus on every single point,” she said. “My mind was wandering at certain times.”
Vögele won the first set thanks to a single break of serve in the fifth game. Watson took time to find her range, but quickly got on top in the second set, breaking Vögele three times with some impressively aggressive returns. The Briton had just played her best game of the day, breaking serve to level the match, when Vögele left the court for her toilet break. Asked later whether some players used the rule allowing such breaks as a form of gamesmanship, Watson said: “I think some girls definitely do that. They want to take a break and gather themselves, as well, and maybe try and slow their opponent’s rhythm. What can you do?”
If Watson had been in the same situation, might she have done the same? “I’m a fair player,” she said. “My elbow was hurting. I didn’t call a physio on the court because I knew there was nothing that could be done. I could have easily done that.” Had she ever felt the need to request a toilet break? “Never, because I always go to the toilet before I go on court.”
Having reached the second round here last year, Watson is likely to drop out of the world’s top 50 when the rankings are updated at the end of the tournament. She will be hoping to find her grass-court form quickly as she has a significant number of ranking points to defend at Wimbledon, where she reached the third round last year.
The defeat meant that there were no British victories in singles competition at Roland Garros for the first time since 2007, the last occasion Andy Murray did not play here.
Watson is still in the doubles and mixed competitions, but her compatriot, Laura Robson, withdrew from the women’s doubles because of a lower back injury. The British No 1 will seek medical advice in London and is hoping the injury will not affect her plans to play on grass at Edgbaston, Eastbourne and Wimbledon.