Walkovers are often confused with a handful of related tennis terms, including retirement, default, and withdrawals, which frequently have similar outcomes but don’t have the same meaning.
Walkover vs. Retirement
A critical distinction between a walkover and retirement is timing. A walkover only occurs when a player withdraws participation before the match starts due to injury, illness, or penalty of code of conduct.
On the other hand, a retirement can only occur once a match begins. One of the reasons these are often confused is that the causes for both could be the same, i.e., injury or illness.
For example, a player can withdraw from a match before it begins due to a shoulder injury, which would trigger a walkover. Likewise, a player can retire from a match due to a shoulder injury, but the match would have already started for it to be a retirement.
In both cases, players initiate walkovers and retirements.
Walkover vs. Default
Another term often mistaken or confused with walkovers is a default, but some key factors differentiate them.
The easy way to distinguish the two is who typically initiates them. The majority of the time, a player is responsible for a walkover. More specifically, they claim to be ill or injured and cannot participate in their upcoming scheduled match after the tournament has begun.
When it comes to defaults, the tournament supervisor is responsible for the decision. The chair umpire calls upon the tournament supervisor with a player’s violation of the code of conduct, and the supervisor uses that information to decide whether to default a player.
The most common offenses that lead to a supervisor defaulting a player applies to the point penalty system, where players lose points because of their on-court behavior. Some offenses include:
- Ball abuse
- Racquet or equipment abuse
- Physical abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Audible or visible obscenity
- Unsportsmanlike conduct
- Leaving the court
- Tanking the match
Beyond that, a player’s improper dress or equipment can also lead to a default if they can’t or are unwilling to correct it per the code of conduct.
One of the reasons these two terms are often confused is that a player can be defaulted outside of a match for a code violation. It’s rare, but if it does happen, then it might be assumed as a walkover, but it’s not.
Another reason I’ve seen the two confused is that some prominent websites refer to defaults as walkovers. Check out the screenshot below.
During the fourth round of the 2020 US Open, the tournament supervisor defaulted Novak Djokovic from his match when he accidentally struck a female line judge with a tennis ball. However, Google displays the event as a walkover, which isn’t accurate.
Walkover vs. Withdrawal
Walkovers and withdrawals are perhaps the most similar, but they do have factors that distinguish them. Most importantly, a walkover occurs after a tournament has begun, while a withdrawal happens when a tennis player ops out of an event before their first match.
Like retirements, walkovers and withdrawals can happen for similar reasons stemming from illness or injury. Furthermore, both occur before a player starts a match and are player-initiated.
Withdrawals are unique because they happen before the first match of the tournament’s draw is selected. As a result, no player advanced to the subsequent round without defeating their opponent.
Of course, it doesn’t help that both terms start with the letter “w,” making it even easier to swap them accidentally.