PLEASE NOTE THAT MY COMMENTS IN THIS EPISODE ARE REGARDING UNOFFICIATED MATCHES. IN OFFICIATED MATCHES AND TOURNAMENTS, THE RULES AND REGULATIONS REGARDING LATENESS AND DEFAULTS APPLY.
In this week's episode, we're going to talk about something that … the bottom line is, it's a matter of tennis etiquette, and I don't think tennis etiquette is something that we hear too much about. We recreational players out there, whether we're playing for fun or playing as part of a league, playing a tournament, we know that tennis etiquette is often just as important and impactful of what happens on the court as the rules. So in this episode, I'm going to talk a little about the rules and a lot about the etiquette of forfeiting a tennis match. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
SHOW NOTES AND EDITED TRANSCRIPT:
So let's talk about forfeiting. I recently got a comment to a post I had written back in 2009 that brought this up again for me. And when I reread the post to see where this comment was coming from, I clearly remembered the match that drove me to write this post, and how upset I felt about it and why I thought addressing how to properly forfeit a match was necessary.
The Rules on Forfeiting
But before we go down that road, looking at that post in the comment, let's see what the rules have to say about Forfeits. If you look to the ITF Rules of Tennis, those are the rules that we use here in the United States and you probably use them in whatever country you're in, forfeits are not a thing in the rules, they're not mentioned. They're also not in the Code.
There's nothing that tells you what a forfeit is or how to properly do it. If you go to the U.S.T.A. regulations that apply here, again in the United States, and I can only assume that whatever country you're in, there must be something quite similar. But if you go to the USTA Regulations and look at Regulation III where you'll find table ten. OK? Don't worry about tracking all that down because here's what's important. This table has some definitions regarding what it means when players don't show up to play a match. The word forfeit isn't in here, but there are some things that we would clearly recognize, that we would probably call a forfeit.
For example a withdrawal. This happens in a tournament where a player withdraws from a match before the match starts. There's also a walkover. And this occurs, again, when a player doesn't play a match because of injury, illness or personal circumstance. You see this when you watch the Slams on television. A player will win by a walkover. Not necessarily because somebody withdrew, but they thought they were going, a player thought they were going to play a match and then they had an injury and basically they couldn't play. So it's considered a walkover.
There's also something called a retirement. That occurs during a match when a player cannot continue playing for injury, illness or other personal circumstance. Certainly not what we think of when we think of a Forfeit. Although, you might forfeit, you might call it a forfeit if you got injured during a match and had to stop playing.
There's also something called a default. A default occurs when an official, like a referee, does not allow a player to begin a match. This can occur because of players who don't show up, they're late or they did something inappropriate, like maybe they got supplemental oxygen. That's the example they give here in the regulation, so that's where I'm coming up with that one. That's called a default. That's an involuntary thing. You're not permitted to play your match because an official determines you've done something inappropriate. In other words you didn't show up, you did the supplemental oxygen, so you're prevented from playing by an official.
So basically we have withdrawals, we have walkovers, we have retirements, we have Defaults, but we don't have forfeits in all of these rules and regulations that apply to tennis in the United States, and again, I'm sure that there are very comparable rules and regulations in your country, if you are not in the United States.
What Is A Forfeit?
But we all know what a forfeit is. It's when, in a match, usually a league match is where you would see this, something that counts for points, a team cannot play a line for some reason. And I'm going to talk about it in this context, talking about league Matches and lines. This could be any type of match. If you're playing for fun, I assume this wouldn't be a big deal if you had to not show up and technically you were forfeiting because of that. But in league matches, that's where we really see issues come up as to Forfeits. Now, just because the USTA's Rules and Regulations don't address Forfeits, that doesn't mean there aren't any rules, regulations or policies on this issue.
League Rules And Regulations
Usually, when you play a League, they have their own rules, regulations or policies. It might be a very simple one page set of policies or, as I found when I was preparing for this episode, two of the leagues I played in actually have pretty extensive league rules that apply specifically to matches in their leagues. So I went to look to those, to see what these particular leagues have to say about Forfeiting. These are pretty well organized leagues with boards of directors, people who are probably very well qualified as far as tennis players go, to come up with these rules. One of them, one set of rules I'm looking to is the Houston Ladies Tennis Association League Rules. The other is the West Houston Ladies Tennis Association League Rules. Both of those are very large leagues. Lots and lots of women playing in them. HLTA is the USTA league that I play out of. WHLTA is not a USTA league, but still it's a huge league here in the city of Houston, its borders appear to me to extend well beyond what I would call West Houston.
And so, both of these leagues have been around for very many years and have come up with pretty comprehensive rules that supplement the ITF Rules of Tennis and the other, the code that we apply when we're playing. And both of these leagues specifically address the issue of Forfeiting. So first I'm going to look to the WHLTA rules, because I think they did a pretty good job of defining the difference between a Forfeit and a Default.
And they tell us that a Forfeit happens when a team is aware they will not be able to field a line prior to a match. So when you're setting up your league matches, your lineup, you'll know usually before you walk on court whether or not you have players to play a particular line. And when you don't, and you have to let the other captain know you're not going to be able to play one of your lines, that would be a Forfeit.
A Default, on the other hand, occurs when a team cannot play a line because of extenuating circumstances after score sheets have already been exchanged, or after the default time for the match has occurred. So that's a little bit different but what I want to highlight there, the difference they're trying to make between a Forfeit and a Default, and I think what's important to talk about in the Forfeit situation is the timing of it.
What those particular definitions were pointing out was, a Forfeit, what we call a Forfeit, usually happens well in advance of the match. You know that walking out on the court, you already know you don't have the players.
A Default, again in these rules they're saying, occurs when something occurs either after the match, score sheets have been exchanged, because that's when you're committing to which players will be playing a particular line, or after the warm up time has already occurred. In other words, somebody is really late. They're calling that a Default.
The Timing Of A Forfeit
What I'd like to highlight here, and I think what my post from 2009 was going to, and the comment that it recently received was going to, is the timing. The timing of when to forfeit. Obviously, for talking about these other things, Defaults, Walkovers, Retirements, those happen either immediately before you take the court or during the match. You don't know that's going to happen. You thought you were going to play and something occurs that prevents you from playing, and you have to basically give up the match. The timing of a Forfeit however is that, in advance of taking the court and maybe well in advance, you know you're … you don't … you're not going to be able to play or you don't have players to play that particular line.
When Should You Forfeit?
So, now that we know what we're talking about, what a Forfeit is, I'm going to tell you about my 2009 post. I'll put a link to it, but I'll give you the gist of what happened. I played a match and it was during the summer, and our opponents forfeited two out of four lines the morning that we got to court. Basically, the first two matches were supposed to start at nine A.M. and at eight A.M. the captain of the opponents called my captain and said “Oh, we have to forfeit two lines.” They forfeited one of the lines that was supposed to start play at nine A.M., and they forfeited one of the lines that was supposed to start later, which in this particular league that line is scheduled to start at ten thirty, so they forfeit a nine A.M. match and a ten thirty A.M. Match. My team had booked out two courts for these four matches thinking two were going to start at nine and two were going to start at ten thirty.
So at eight A.M. when the opponents forfeited two lines we ended up having one match start at nine A.M. and a court empty because the people who were in the second match, that was still going to be played, couldn't get themselves organized enough to get together and take that court before ten thirty.
And I'm not saying that as a criticism of those people, I'm saying four people who thought they were going to play tennis at ten thirty suddenly less then basically two hours before they were supposed to be at the court we're told “Oh, the court's open, you can come now.” And there was no way that all four of them could be there. So basically they waited till ten thirty to play their ten thirty match, and the court just stood there empty.
Similarly, at ten thirty when they started, there was another empty court which wasn't that important, except that this was an indoor league and so we had booked and paid for this court that nobody was using. What drove me to write this post was, I played in the early nine A.M. match that did go forward.
I wasn't the captain but I was there and so, I became aware of all of these circumstances, and when I finished my nine A.M. match, and honestly I didn't read this post very carefully, I don't know if I won or lost, I can't remember that, but I do vividly remember that when we finished, our opponents that we had just played against told us “Oh, it's so frustrating that we forfeited these two lines. It's summer, our captain is really having trouble putting together the lineup each week. We have not played more than two lines all summer long.” In other words, they had regularly forfeited at least two lines, and some weeks told me they had had to forfeit all four lines! My point is that it seemed virtually certain that their captain knew well in advance of eight A.M. that morning that she was going to forfeit these two lines. It was frustrating because it basically ruined the morning of many people who thought they were going to be playing tennis, and it was something that easily could have been prevented by forfeiting much earlier than that eight A.M. time.
Now, why would the opponents' captain have waited so long to forfeit? I'm sure a lot of you know why, if you're captains or you play in very competitive leagues, I certainly know why. She waited until eight A.M. that morning in the hopes, the off chance that our team might forfeit, our captain might not be able to put together a complete lineup and maybe some time before that eight A.M. that morning time that she chose to forfeit, our captain might call her and forfeit a line or two.
That didn't happen. We had all four of our lines ready, all eight of our players were ready to go, but our opponents … she sort of held out as long as she possibly could to wait and see if we would forfeit. And there was nothing to prevent her from doing that.
The rules in that particular league don't specify when you have to forfeit, the extensive rules I looked at for these other two leagues that I discussed, the HLTA and the WHLTA, which do address timing of forfeits, do not talk about, in advance of a match, how far in advance you need to forfeit. It is purely a matter of Etiquette.
The Etiquette Of Forfeiting
So, my position that I took, when I concluded this particular post in 2009, was that you should forfeit a match in that situation the night before, merely as a matter of common tennis Etiquette and Courtesy. Because people plan their days, especially when they're league players, around their matches, and by choosing to wait until the absolute last possible minute to forfeit, our opponents' captain had really ruined the mornings of a lot of people. Maybe her team already knew this was going to happen and they weren't going to be playing, but there were definitely four people from our team who thought they had matches that morning, who'd blocked their mornings out and basically at the last minute found out they weren't going to be playing.
Now, the comment I got to my 2009 post was from Rod, and what Rod said was “Ok, that's fine, but what about when both teams are ready to start play and one person is late. How long is permitted until that game is forfeited?” And I'm sure what he's talking about is that match.
So that's a little bit different from my situation. What I was talking about obviously was, where you know you're not going to be able to play a match, you know you need to forfeit, how long do you wait playing that game to see if the other team will forfeit before you. And my position is, you can't play that game if you know you have to, at least, forfeit the night before, because it's very impolite, very poor etiquette to wait that long to forfeit.
Forfeiting When One Player Is Late
Rod's situation where, for example, I've been in the situation too, you have a doubles match, three people are there and the fourth person just doesn't ever show up. That is actually addressed in both sets of rules that I went to the W.H. L.T.A. and the H.L.T.A., and I'm sure if you play in a very organized league, that issue’s also address.
Because it's well known by players in both of these leagues, that have their own rules, that there is a twenty minute cut off. If your match is supposed to start at nine and a player has not arrived by nine twenty, the opponents can say you forfeited, we’re taking that match. And in both of those leagues it's twenty minutes. If a player shows up within that twenty minute time frame, if they show up after fifteen minutes, they may lose the right to their warm up. That's all addressed. But at twenty minutes the other team may choose to push you into a forfeit situation, and that is well known. I can’t even tell you how many phone calls I have made to partners of mine saying: “Are you coming, are you coming, we’re getting close, they're starting to ask where you are.” Because we know that, that after twenty minutes the other team might make us forfeit.
The rules make clear that the other team can give you some extra time, if they choose to do that. And I've also been in that situation, where people are very nice and you tell them: “Oh, she's on her way, she's out in the parking lot”, and they’ll give you a couple of extra minutes. But that is up to their discretion. Everybody knows you have to be there at twenty minutes.
Proper Forfeiting Etiquette
So Rod, my answer to your question will be “how long do you wait?” First and foremost, you need to wait as long as the rules for your league tell you. I would be sure, if you are playing on a league team, that you have a copy of any rules that league has put out, and make yourself well aware how much time you have to arrive at a match. And as I said, again, everyone that I play with in these two particular leagues that I'm looking at their rules, everyone knows this, whether they're carrying a copy of these rules around in their bag or not, everyone knows this twenty minute rule. So if you are playing a league match, you should be aware of things like this. Get a copy of those rules, or talk to your captain, and find out for sure what the rule on this is.
Now, if you're playing a fun match, and I know my first thought is: “Oh, if I'm playing a fun match, you know, we're all calling each other and it's all going to be fun and people are going to be reasonable.”, but I get it, sometimes you're playing a fun match that doesn't necessarily count for anything, for points or anything, but it can be fun with people that are your acquaintances, not necessarily your best friends, and you're trying to figure out what is the etiquette of being polite in that situation. And I would say, it's whatever the three people who show up think is reasonable.
Once again, there are no rules, regulations, policies about this that are put out by the official governing bodies, here in the United States. Leagues often address this, and they really should, in their own rules. But short of that, if you're just playing a “fun match”, then you need to decide what you think is reasonable. I would make sure I have phone numbers for other players so you can call them, figure out what's going on. But at some point you just have to decide for yourself what is good etiquette, what is polite, and when do you cut it all off and go: “Hey, the rest of us have to go on with our day.”
So I hope that helps, I hope that helps a little bit in deciding how and when to forfeit a tennis match. I know none of us want to forfeit. We all want to get those points, but really, being like the captain that I'm talking about, waiting till the last possible minute to forfeit, is very rude.
I understand everyone wants to win and everybody wants to get points, but come on, you cannot put out all those other people and disrupt their lives just because you want to get some points for your team, in whatever league you're in.
So that's what I have to say about forfeits. That situation, forfeit the night night before, be polite. Use good etiquette. But let me know if you disagree with me, because I wouldn't be surprised if some people do disagree with me.
You can do that by leaving me a comment below. I'd love to hear what you have to say about forfeits, and if you have situations that have occurred to you, that are even worse than my situation with the captain forfeiting two lines at the last possible minute, go ahead and let me know, because I like to read what happens to other people too. And really, in these sort of etiquette situations, there's a lot of things out there that go wrong. I know I've seen a lot, but I'm sure I haven't seen everything, or even the close to the worst of everything. So just visit the show notes, leave your comments. I'd love to hear from you.
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