What is Walkover in Tennis? Simple Answer & Explanation

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 is one of these rules and one that you might encounter if you play in tennis leagues and take part in tournaments. 

A walkover is when a player wins due to their opponent not being able to make it to their scheduled match because of verifiable reasons such as illness, injury, or personal emergencies. 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. 

USTA Leagues and Walkovers

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
Possibly
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. But you must be okay with following many rules.

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. 

Local Leagues and Walkovers

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. 

Circumstances That Merit a Walkover

Tennis Court

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 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 less of a loss. 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 Versus Default and Retirement

Meditation has a huge influence on player

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
Injury
Personal emergency
DefaultNever begins
Is unfinished
Lateness
No-show
Refusal to start or continue
Code violations 
RetirementIs unfinished Injury
Illness
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 organization could remain in the complicated tournament rankings.