What is a walkover in tennis?

It is no secret that tennis rules are quite interesting and meticulous, more than other sports, we could say — the scoring system, love meaning zero, the tiebreaks — but they all have an easy-to-learn explanation. There is one particular term that can be underestimated, hence not analyzed correctly. A walkover in tennis means the same for all types of tournaments, but the variables and consequences within this concept can vary depending on the situations and the officials’ considerations.

What is a walkover in tennis?

According to the 2021 ATP and WTA Official Rulebook, a walkover happens when a match did not begin because

a) losing player was ill or injured or

b) losing player was subjected to penalties of Code of Conduct before first serve of match was struck or otherwise not permitted by ATP/WTA or tournament supervisor to play. This would not be used when a lucky loser or alternate is substituted.

What violations to the Code of Conduct could lead to a walkover?

The Tennis International Federation’s Code of Conduct is a very strict regulation for both men and women, and it summarizes every piece of information a professional tennis player needs to know in order to not be penalized for any actions such as withdrawals, punctuality, attires, obscenity, angry behavior, and many others.

Now, we will list 2 of the violations to the Code of Conduct that could immediately lead to a player not starting the game, hence causing a walkover:

  • Punctuality: Any player that is not ready to play within 15 minutes after the match is called can lose via walkover, unless the ITF Supervisor, after considering all the circumstances, chooses not to enact it.
  • Attire: If a player does not dress or equips himself/herself according to the Code of Conduct requirements, the official will ask him/her to change to an appropriate attire and/or equipment. If the player does not comply, then it will result in a walkover. Remember that catsuit Serena Williams wore in Roland Garros in 2018? Well, as impossible as it sounds, this type of attire will not be allowed again in terms of French tournaments, at least that is what the president of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, stated back then. Even though this did not disqualify Williams from the tournament, it could have been the precise example of a walkover due to inappropriate attire.

Even though these are part of the few rules that explicitly indicate a walkover can be immediately produced if violated, there are several others that can turn into a walkover if the ITF Supervisor decides them to. Here are 4 examples of rules that can be violated before the match starts, including during warm-up:

  • Audible and visible obscenity
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Abuse of balls
  • Abuse of rackets or equipment

What happens to the ranking points and prize money after a walkover?

The 2021 ATP Rulebook states that winners of “walkover”/”no match” matches receive points and prize money as if the match had been played, except walkovers in the first round or if a player has not won any matches in previous rounds; no points shall be awarded — as stated in the 2021 ITF World Tennis Tour Regulations.

On the women’s side, the 2021 Rulebook establishes that a player or team who receives a walkover in any round will receive the prize money for the round reached.

The ranking points for the WTA work differently in terms of walkovers

  • If a player or team receives a walkover in the first round, and there is no Alternate or Lucky Loser to take the spot, the player or team will receive ranking points from the round preceding her/their elimination.
  • If a player or team receives a walkover in a subsequent round without having yet played a match, the player or team will receive ranking points from the round preceding her/their elimination.
  • If a player or team receives a walkover in any round except the first round after having played and won a match, the player or team will receive ranking points for the round reached.

Other facts related to walkovers

If a man or woman loses a match via walkover, they still must attend to media conferences, otherwise a fine will be applied.

The 2021 ATP Rulebook indicates that a player winning a match by walkover is considered to have played a match. The 2021 ITF World Tennis Tour Regulations backs this rule for both men and women by saying “…a match is played when it is won as a result of retirement, default, walkover or no show.”

What is the difference between a walkover and a default?

It is important not to confuse walkover with default, because they both mean the player involved in an injury or Code of Conduct violation will lose the match instantly, but it depends on when the action happens, so let us take a look at what a default is and how it is different from a walkover.

According to the 2021 ATP Official Rule Book, the losing player is defaulted under the provisions of the Code of Conduct after the match begins. A walkover happens before the match begins.

To Sum Up

A walkover in tennis is part of the many rules adhered to this professional sport, and its existence implies several conditions and consequences. Pulling back from starting a match due to injuries or due to a code violation is just a small part of what a walkover involves. Fines, ranking points and money prize are always on the line and it is important to take them into consideration.

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