Well, it finally happened. During my match yesterday, I mishit a return (I think that's what happened), and I broke a string in my tennis racquet. I wish I could say I hit the ball so hard that I broke a string, but I'm pretty sure it was just a bad return on my part. And the strings on my racquet were already worn. I had even thought about getting the racquet restrung earlier in the week but was sure this racquet could make it a little bit longer. Wrong. The good news is that I actually do carry a second tennis racquet in my bag so I was able to switch racquets, keep playing and, ultimately, win the match (Hooray!).
Now, here's the timing on all of this. The string broke as I hit my return on the last point of an odd game. When we lost that point, we lost the game and had to change ends of court. I just switched out my racquet during this changeover.
What I thought was interesting about all of this was the reaction of one of my opponent's to my situation. As I switched racquets, she said, “Good thing you've got that second racquet so you don't have to forfeit.” Forfeit? I hadn't even considered that possibility. It made me realize I don't know anything about the rules of tennis regarding broken racquet strings.
Naturally, I did some research and it turns out there is not an obvious answer to the question of whether you have to forfeit when you break a racquet string. But I think I came up with the answer and I'm going to walk you through it so YOU don't wrongly forfeit a match because you don't know the rule and someone else convinces you that they do.
Rule 4 of the USTA's Official Rules of Tennis addresses “The Racket.” The rule states that “Rackets, which are approved for play under the Rules of Tennis, must comply with the specifications in Appendix II.” And Appendix II, entitled “The Racket,” says:
a. The hitting surface, defined as the main area of the stringing pattern bordered by the points of entry of the strings into the frame or points of contact of the strings with the frame, whichever is the smaller, shall be flat and consist of a pattern of crossed strings connected to a frame and alternately interlaced or bonded where they cross. The stringing pattern must be generally uniform and, in particular, not less dense in the centre than in any other area.
That seems pretty clear – there's no way a racquet with a broken string or strings is going to have a flat pattern of crossed strings that is generally uniform. So it appears that, once you break a string, you no longer have a playable racquet and might, in fact, have to forfeit your match.
HOWEVER . . . going, back to USTA Rule 4, the “Cases” accompanying the rule provide some interesting explanation:
Case 4. During a point, a player accidentally breaks the strings. Can the player continue to play another point with this racket?
Decision. Yes, except where specifically prevented by event organisers.
So, even if I didn't have a second racquet, I wouldn't have to forfeit just because I broke my racquet strings. I could continue playing the point where my string broke and, according to Case 4 above, at least “another point” with that racquet, although I'm sure that would be pretty laughable. But maybe my partner could just run everything down and we wouldn't have to forfeit at that moment.
Comment 4.2 to Rule 4 then goes on to state:
May a player who breaks a racket or a string in a racket leave the court to get a replacement? A player who leaves the Court to get a replacement is subject to Code Violations for delays under the Point Penalty System. Rule 29b permits a player “reasonable extra time” to leave the court only in those cases where “clothing, footwear or necessary equipment (excluding racket) is broken or needs to be replaced.”
And, if you look at Rule 29b, it does say that very thing – that you can get extra time if your clothing, shoes or other necessary equipment needs to be replaced, but not if your racquet needs to be replaced. Since Rule 29a allows you 20 seconds between each point (90 seconds if you're changing ends of court), I think that means you can have 20 seconds, and only 20 seconds, to run over to your bag, grab your second racquet and be ready to play again. I think I could do that.
The important thing, in my opinion, is to have that second racquet right there on the court ready for you to grab. Sure, you can keep your racquet well-strung, but you never know when you're going to mishit some ball and break your strings. Like me. And to think I almost stopped carrying my second racquet all of the time because I didn't like the “look” of two racquets in my bag. Thank goodness my laziness in removing my racquet won out over my strange tennis fashion sense!