Tennis Rules: What is a Walkover?

Tennis (source: IPTL World )

STARNBERG, July 18, 2022 (Guest Post)

Have you ever heard of players getting a walkover during tennis tournaments? What does this mean?

At its simplest, a walkover is when a player withdraws from a match.  The withdrawal results in the other player advancing to the next round without having to play and win that match.

The concept is relatively straightforward. But there are nuances in how tennis administrative bodies like the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) deal with walkovers, which muddies that water a bit.

To clarify things, let’s take a detailed look at what a walkover means and common situations that constitute a walkover in tennis.

What Does a Walkover Mean?

Match-play terminology is vital when it comes to tennis tournaments. Case in point is the concept of walkovers.

A walkover is when a player advances without winning a match due to their opponent pulling out or becoming ineligible.  But it’s important to note that walkovers don’t apply to every circumstance in which a player pulls out.

For instance, there :

  • If a player pulls out before a tournament begins is called a withdrawal.
  • If a player needs to stop playing during a match, it’s termed a retirement.

Players can also get a default. With a default, a player is found to be in violation of the code of conduct of the tournament’s administration.  Officials apply penalties if a becomes physically or verbally abusive to another player or official.

Is a Walkover Considered a Win?

You may be wondering whether a walkover results in a win. After all, one opponent has forfeited while the other has advanced.  That’s a win, right?

The short answer is no.  A walkover does not result in an automatic win. It’s neither a loss nor a win, as the match simply did not take place.

This ruling is universal.

5 Reasons a Tennis Player May Get a Walkover

Walkovers are expected from time to time in tennis, though they are not especially common.  When it does happen, it’s just considered a lucky break.

Let’s explore some of the most common scenarios that lead to a walkover.

1. Administrative mistakes are rare but happen

Sometimes a tournament player may get a walkover due to an administrative error.  These screw-ups are rare but happens from time to time at the professional level.

Examples of this could be when a player is given the wrong call time, so they do not arrive to the match in time to play.  It’s also possible that a player was scheduled to play in a singles match too close to a doubles match they had previously, making it impossible for them to make it on time.

2. Illness and injury are the most common reasons for walkovers

Illness and injury are by far the most common reasons for walkovers.  After all, everyone gets sick from time to time and can’t compete at their best.

Throughout the course of a tournament, it’s inevitable that a player or two will get injured and end up unable to compete.  All tennis ruling bodies include illness and injury as legitimate reasons for walkovers.

3. Specific penalties could result in a walkover

Sometimes a player will get a walkover when their opponent has incurred penalties that prevent them from playing.  The penalties that lead to a walkover are defined by the rule book of each individual tournament’s governing body.

4. Personal emergency can sometimes result in a walkover

Sometimes a player will get a walkover in tennis due to their opponent having a personal emergency. This could be an accident or illness in the family, legal issues, or anything else that the player prioritizes over participating in the match.

Not all tennis governing bodies consider personal emergencies as walkovers.  Again, refer to the rule book when in question.

5. Player tardiness or no-shows are valid reasons

If one of the players arrives late to the match, this may result in a walkover and advancement for the other player.  Typically, a player can be up to 15 minutes late, and they’ll receive a minor penalty (such as losing a chance to serve first).

But when a player is more than half an hour late, without offering a legitimate explanation, this typically results in a walkover.

Where Walkovers Can Get Tricky

We now know what constitutes a walkover, and examples of circumstances in which a walkover may occur.  But how do walkovers affect statistics, rankings, and prizes?

It’s here where things can get a bit more complex.  Let’s examine some specific situations in which the application of a walkover may not be intuitive.

1. Winning streaks do not factor walkovers

Walkover matches are typically not counted as a win when determining winning streaks. For example, if a player has a streak of winning eight straight matches, but one of the wins resulted from a walkover, he or she can only claim a streak of seven matches.

The issue of walkovers and winning streaks is a highly-debated topic.  But as the rules currently stand, walkovers aren’t counted in winning streaks.

2. Rankings rules vary by governing body

ATP rulings state that those on the benefiting side of a walkover will be awarded points in the same manner as if they had played the match.

But the WTA is a bit stricter. They allow for ranking points to be allocated to a player except when a player gets a walkover in their first match of a tournament.

Players who withdraw due to a walkover will only get ranking points until the last match they played before pulling out.

3. Prize money does not factor for walkover 

In tournaments, players generally get paid for the round they reach.  As such, they should win the same prizes for playing and winning a match as they would if they won due to a walkover.

4. A walkover does not affect post-match commitments

Even though a player may lose a match due a walkover, they are still required to make themselves available for post-game ceremonies (for instance, interviews or press briefings).  As if the pain of losing a match due to sleeping late isn’t enough, players still have to go in front of the camera and face the music!

But in the case of serious injury, or other emergency, a player may be allowed to skip post-game ceremonies after a walkover.

5. Walkovers may happen in doubles tournaments too

Walkovers are pretty rare when it comes to doubles tournaments (if you’re a doubles player and are looking for a good laugh, check out these funny tennis team names), but they do happen.  In this scenario, both players are subject to the same walkover rules as singles players.

Closing Thoughts

A walkover in tennis is a fairly straightforward concept, though it can get more complicated in its practical application.  The rules and results from walkovers also differ among the various tennis governing bodies, which contributes to the confusion around their implementation.

At the end of the day, advancing in a tournament due to a walkover is considered a lucky break in tennis- even if they don’t count toward your winning stream.