What is Walkover in Tennis?

There are rules for tennis just like all other sports. These rules are aimed at keeping things clear and fair for everyone involved, and to help handle situations that may arise during gameplay or tournaments. A walkover can happen if you play in tennis leagues and take part in tournaments.

What is Walkover in Tennis?

A walkover in tennis is when a player wins due to their opponent is not able to continue matches in between an event because of illness, injury, or personal emergencies.

A Retirement and a Default in tennis are different than a Walkover. A Retirement is when a player is unable to continue to play during a match, and a Default is when a player is disqualified due to reasons such as refusal to play, ineligibility, or through Point Penalty System.

Walkovers must be approved by officials and act as a way to mitigate situations where points and rankings are involved. 

While you might not come across situations that will involve a walkover as a beginning player, as you progress and begin taking part in competitions and tournaments, you will need to know exactly how they work and what qualifies as a walkover.

Why is it Called a Walkover?

The term “walkover” originated from a horseracing event in the UK, where an individual participant has to complete the course before they are awarded the victory. This outcome was quite common during that time. There was no incentive to run a horse that finished second or third.

The traditional way of riding and walking over the course of a one-horse race was no longer required. Instead, it was replaced by the more relaxed requirement of making correct weight and finishing the race past the judges’ box.

In tennis, a walkover is a result of a player withdrawing from the match before it begins. It is also referred to as a forfeit when a team loses during the course of a match. In most cases, a walkover is awarded after a sporting body shows a nominal score.

Example of a Walkover

An example of a walkover is when player A withdrew from US Open Finals because of an injury, and player B was crowned champion by a walkover.

Depending on who you are playing with, the rules for what qualifies as a walkover might vary. However, if you are playing in an official league, the USTA defines walkovers in Impact of Withdrawals, Defaults, Walkovers and Retirements as occurring: 

“…after allayed completes a match in a tournament and when that player is unable to play a subsequent match due to illness, injury, or personal emergency.”

Withdrawals, Defaults, Walkovers and Retirements, USTA

Generally speaking, you will need a pretty good reason for your opponent not showing up.

You do not get to call a walkover if one of those criteria is not met, and your opponent is also not allowed to call in a walkover and tell you to take the points.

Everything must be approved by an official before you can be awarded a walkover. 

Some local leagues will have their own rules for walkovers, such as the amount of time given for cancellation, or exactly how late someone can be for a match before a walkover can be awarded to the player who showed up. 

How Do I Claim a Walkover?

To enter the result, enter the note below and make sure that it contains the walkover conditions.

This is one of the most controversial sections of the tournament. Players who have already been allocated for the group may choose to walkover their matches. We would prefer that the match be played, but we reserve the right to change the result if it is recorded as a walkover.

Usually, the player who caused the walkover will pay for the court. In most cases, the player who canceled the booking is responsible for the cost of the court.

Difference Between a Walkover and Retiring a Match

According to the US Tennis Association’s rules and regulations, a player can retire during a match due to an injury or illness. It can also happen due to a variety of factors, such as a player’s personal discipline or physical condition.

In June 2021, Williams retired during the first round of the 2021 Wimbledon due to a hamstring injury. This is the second time that Williams has withdrawn from a major due to injury

Difference Between a Walkover and a Default

A walkover is when a player withdraws from a match due to an injury, illness, or personal situation. A default, on the other hand, occurs when an official decides that the player can’t continue playing due to a violation.

For instance, in 2017, the 20-time Grand Slam champion was defaulted from his fourth-round match at the US Open after hitting a line judge with a ball. Then, the following year, he was punished for hitting the line judge.

Walkover vs Default vs Retirement

A walkover is not the only non-traditional way to win a match. Walkover, default and retirement are all potential ways you might win a game without playing it through, and the terms sometimes get confused. In Impact of Withdrawals, Defaults, Walkovers and Retirement by the USTA, these terms are defined as: 

Winning by:Tournament match: Due to: 
WalkoverNever beginsIllness
Personal emergency
DefaultNever begins
Is unfinished
Refusal to start or continue
Code violations 
RetirementIs unfinished Injury
Personal emergency

You can probably see why there is some confusion when it comes to remembering the definitions of these three words, but they all serve a clear purpose. 

For a walkover to occur, the match never starts due to a verifiable issue that keeps one player from starting the match. 

A game can be won by default if it has never begun, (or if it has started but players are unable to finish), but it will be due to very different reasons than a walkover.

Winning by default happens when the other player is late to the game, does not show up and does not have a verifiable reason, refuses to begin the game or to continue it after a point has been made, or if they make a code violation or exhibit misconduct at any time. 

Retirement is similar to a walkover, but can only occur after the game has started. To win by retirement, your opponent cannot finish the game due to a verifiable reason such as injury, illness, or personal emergency. 

There are multiple ways to win a tennis match without hitting a ball. Tennis players are people and sometimes unforeseen circumstances require you to miss a match that you would have loved to play.

In order to keep things orderly and fair, certain rules like walkovers were put in place so that disagreements could easily be put to rest, and the organization could remain in the complicated tournament rankings. 

How the Walkover Rule Benefits Players

Walkovers have quite a few benefits to tournament players, including: 

  • Making the rules clear
  • Encouraging less disruption
  • Respect for other players
  • Less time wasted
  • Points awarded to “winner”
  • Court costs dispersed 

Tennis has quite a few rules which, just like all sports, are in place to keep things as fair as possible. Clear-cut expectations tell all players that unnecessary disruption isn’t acceptable and that respecting everybody’s time is important.

When you are playing in a tournament, order is very important to keep things fair and easy to follow. When your opponent is not able to show up for a good reason, you do not necessarily aim to punish them with being awarded a walkover.

Rather, it keeps things orderly and respects the time of the player who was able to make it to the game. You will still be awarded points when you win a game due to a walkover, allowing you to continue ranking up and making the missed match.

Additionally, politeness dictates that if you are the cause of the walkover, you will either pay the court costs for the missed game or split them with the other player and pay for the next court.

Walkover for USTA Leagues

Playing with your friends is great practice, and can even herald some friendly competition – but walkovers are generally only used by tennis leagues for tennis tournaments or in professional games. 

A United States Tennis Association (USTA) league is: 

  • Groups of tennis players who want to compete or improve
  • Associated with the United States Tennis Association 

Tennis leagues are often formed under the United States Tennis Association. With USTA leagues you will start at a local USTA league and play tournament style.

Those that win enough games will move on to play at the district or sectional championships, and eventually the national championships.

In order to compete in a USTA league, you will have to get a National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) rating so you are sure that you qualify. Leagues will typically require a rating of 3.0 or higher (sometimes 2.5). 

National Tennis Rating Program RatingKey Abilities/Skill LevelDo you Qualify for a USTA League?
1.0Just beginningNot yet
1.5Limited ExperienceNot yet
2.5Developing form
Somewhat inconsistent 
Favors forehand
3.0More consistency Better ball control Yes, most
4.0Good consistency Improved backhandYes, most
5.0Strength and control
Consistent backhand
Yes, most

This is a very abridged version of the NTRP Rating Program that just touches on a few of the rankings available. Once you surpass a rating of 5.5, your playing tends to speak for itself but if you have never received an NTRP ranking before you will probably still need to get one to play in a league. 

As you can see, you do not have to have perfected your game in order to play in a USTA league. Those that fall within in the rankings of 2.5-3.0, the lowest generally accepted for these leagues, will still have a lot of progress to make on their games. 

At the 2.5 rating, you will still have a pretty weak backhand and might still be running around the ball to position yourself to hit forehand as much as possible.

You won’t necessarily be consistent with your shots, you won’t have much directional control and you will still be working on your form. 

Despite this, you can often still be a part of a USTA league, and this is a great opportunity.

Diversifying your tennis partners and playing a little competitively will help you to improve your tennis game faster and up your ranking faster than if you tried to do it all on your own with a single partner.

USTA leagues will follow the USTA guidelines and rules, including when it comes to walkovers. Walkovers are an important rule in this type of tournament play because you are working to advance up the ranks and ideally make it to nationals.

Things need to be clear and fair so that if your next opponent doesn’t show up to play a scheduled match, it’s not a loss for everyone. 

Walkover for Local Leagues

If you aren’t interested in high-stakes competition, you can usually find a local tennis league that plays in a less intensive style. 

Local leagues are: 

  • Groups of people who want to improve and possibly compete on a small scale
  • Often found at racket clubs
  • Not associated with the USTA, and may follow different guidelines

Some local tennis leagues will let you sign up for a specific number of weeks and during that time you will have the opportunity to play with many different players at many different levels. 

These smaller leagues are great for advancing your game after you have been playing for a while, and also for meeting local tennis players to potentially play with outside of the league.

You may not use walkovers in smaller leagues but you will need to know about them for USTA leagues.

Walkovers are a rule that helps keep tournaments fair and the expectations of all the players clear. With strictly local leagues, rules may vary as to whether they honor walkovers and what criteria must be met.

Some local leagues will not bother with walkovers because they are not playing in a way that makes them necessary.