What is a Walkover in Tennis?


You know the saying, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Well, that may be true in some cases, but when it comes to tennis, winning is definitely better than losing.

I should know—I’ve lost my fair share of matches in my career.

But there is one particular type of win that trumps all other wins, and that’s a tennis walkover match.

It’s one of the less commonly known rules in the game, and it can be a little confusing. So we’re going to break down what a walkover is, when you can get one, and how it affects the match.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

History of the term walkover

The “walkover” is a term used in many sports, but it originally comes from horse racing that took place on in Britain.

The meaning behind this centuries-old tradition remains unclear today as there are no clear guidelines for when or why someone would withdraw leaving only one competitor remaining on race track.

When a jockey did have an opponent withdraw, then he/she must formally cross over every inch of terrain before being crowned victorious by official judge during race time – even though they won without competing!

The term walkover later became popular in both team & individual sports like:

  • football
  • basketball
  • sailing
  • tennis

“A walkover occurs when a player wins a tournament without competing”

— tennistips.org

What counts as a walkover in tennis

Tennis is one of the most popular sports of the decade, and players often compete in tournaments throughout the entire year. Twelve months straight is a big commitment for tennis players!

But life happens, and sometimes a player can’t play a pre-arranged match or participate in a tournament. Players might withdraw from a match due to:

  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Personal reasons (family death, etc) 
  • Being fined by the organizers or prohibited from competing for a certain reason

A walkover may also take place when the reason the match is not played is due to an administrative error. Any other reason is counted as a default.

You might remember the very recent example of Novak Djokovic, who was included in the draw for the 2022 Australian Open, but was ultimately not allowed to compete in the tournament due to strict rules regarding the COVID-19 protocol. In this instance, his opponent won by a walkover. 

According to ATP and WTA rules, a walkover in tennis is an automatic win for one of the players when the other player could not appear on the court for one of the reasons mentioned above.

Nadal gets walkover in 2019 US Open

Benefits of a walkover in tennis

You Don’t Have to Play.

This one might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s such a huge perk. When you win a walkover match, you don’t have to actually step on the court and play.

That means no sweating, no grunting, and no running around like a crazy person chasing a little green ball.

You can just sit back and watch the other matches while sipping on a refreshing beverage of your choice. It’s the perfect way to relax and catch up on some much-needed rest and hydration.

Conserve Your Energy

You can just sit back and relax while your opponent does all the work (or fails to show up at all).

This is especially beneficial if you have another match later in the day or if you’re just feeling a bit under the weather.

You Look Like a Badass

Let’s be honest—when you win a walkover match, you look like a complete badass. You didn’t even have to try and you still came out victorious.

That sends a message loud and clear to your opponents (and anyone watching) that you’re not to be messed with.

How is a walkover calculated?

When a player advances to the next round of a tournament based on a walkover, we cannot truly say that the player won, because the match did not even take place.

Regardless of the fact that the player advanced in the competition on the basis of walkover, they will still receive the corresponding number of points that belong to them based on the round in which they advanced. Everything is counted as if the match was actually played.

A Walk in the Park: The Most Famous Walkover Victories


The Ugly Side of Serena Williams

In the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals, Serena Williams was playing against German player Angelique Kerber.

After losing the first set 6–3, things started unraveling for Serena. She received a warning for smashing her racket and was given a point penalty for cursing at the umpire.

Then, after losing the second set 6–4, she completely lost her cool.

She berated the umpire, calling him a “thief” and a “liar.”

As a result, she was given a game penalty, putting Kerber one game away from winning the match. At this point, Serena refused to calm down and walked off the court in protest, giving Kerber the victory by way of walkover.


Rafael Nadal’s Classy Act

In the 2005 Davis Cup final, Rafael Nadal was playing against Argentine player Mariano Puerta. Nadal took the first two sets 6–7(5), 3–6 but then Puerta made an amazing comeback, winning the next two sets 7–5, 6–4.

Nadal was up 5–2 in the fifth and final set when Puerta began cramping up badly. Nadal could have easily taken advantage of this and won the match; instead, he walked over to Puerta and gave him water and massaged his legs in an attempt to help him recover.

However, Puerta’s cramping only got worse and he was eventually forced to retire from the match, giving Nadal the victory by way of walkover.

These are just two examples of famous (and infamous) walkover victories in tennis history. In both cases, the victor exhibited excellent sportsmanship—but only one can be considered a “class act.”

Who do you think it is?

The jist of it?

While winning a tennis match is always satisfying, there are some benefits to winning a match by default (AKA a walkover). From saving energy to avoiding the pressure of competition, sometimes it’s good to take the easy way out!

So if you find yourself up against an unresponsive opponent, don’t despair- as long as you meet these requirements, you could still earn that coveted W! Unless, of course, you forfeit!

Have you ever had the experience of playing in or watching a tennis match with a walkover? Let us know about it in the comments below.


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