What Is a Walkover in Tennis (+ The Most Famous Walkovers)?

Understanding the rules of tennis is a key part of improving your game. When you start to play more competitive matches, there are a few different aspects of the game that come into play, more so than in recreational tennis.

One of these is the walkover.

Walkovers occur in tournament play and effectively hand the match to the opponent without either player stepping onto the court.

So, let’s take a closer look at what exactly a walkover is in more detail, and some of the most high-profile walkovers in the professional tennis world.

What Is a Walkover?

A walkover in tennis occurs when a player informs the tournament referee that they will not be participating in their scheduled match, prior to the start of the match.

This differs from a retirement, which happens when a player pulls out mid-match, conceding to their opponent. Retirements usually occur when a player has sustained an injury throughout the course of the match, and can no longer continue playing. 

A walkover is also usually the result of an injury but occasionally occurs when a player has tournament scheduling issues. 

In general, if a player has sustained an injury during a match, but has felt well enough to continue to the end they would not retire from the match. However, if after the adrenaline has worn off and they start to feel the injury more acutely, they may not be able to carry on into the next round. 

In these circumstances, the injured player will inform the tournament organizer that they are unable to play their match, and their opponent will advance to the next round automatically.

Why is it Called a Walkover?

The term walkover actually originates from horse racing. When a horse was so dominant, the rider would walk over the line in what was effectively a one-horse race. 

The term has been translated into many sports and is commonly used to describe a match or contest that has been won very easily. 

However, tennis, unlike other sports, does have a specific meaning.

Types of Walkovers in Tennis

There are a couple of reasons why players may choose to walk over a match in tennis. The most common by far is through an injury, particularly at the highest levels of professional tennis. 

However, at the lower levels of the game, it is possible that players may decide to opt for a walkover if they have overlapping tournaments in their schedules, and prize money is at stake.


The most common reason for a walkover is an injury. Players may be able to get through the match they sustained an injury in, particularly if it occurred late on in the match or they had adrenaline acting as a natural painkiller. 

However, once the excitement of the match win has worn off, players may feel that their injury has gotten worse and will hamper them significantly in their next match. In this case, the player will choose to pull out of their next match to save them from worsening their injury.

Scheduling Issues

Another, less common reason that a play may decide to opt for a walkover rather than playing their scheduled match is tournament overlaps. 

At the recreational or even lower level professional level tournaments, players may have overlaps in their schedule, where one tournament starts before a player’s current tournament ends. 

With this in mind, it is feasible that a player may decide to withdraw from a match in the latter stages of a tournament, in order to play the opening rounds of a more prestigious event the following week. 

This is not seen very often and is sometimes frowned upon in the tennis world, but when prize money or ranking points are at stake, players will occasionally opt to withdraw from one tournament to play another.

The Most Famous Walkovers in Tennis

There have been some pretty high-profile walkovers in professional tennis, despite millions of dollars, ranking points, and big trophies being on the line!

Roger Federer ATP Finals 2014

One of the most high-profile walkovers in men’s tennis was that of Roger Federer who was suffering from persistent back issues at the 2014 ATP finals. Federer was due to play long-term rival Novak Djokovic in what was billed to be a thriller, but after his three-set win against Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals, was unable to play the championship match. 

This handed Djokovic the win, and he then proceeded to play an exhibition match against Andy Murray in place of the final.

Rafael Nadal French Open 2016

Another very high-profile withdrawal came from the king of clay himself, Rafael Nadal. In the 2016 French Open, Nadal pulled out of the tournament due to a wrist injury after beating Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis in the 2nd round. 

Novak Djokovic would go on to win the tournament and claim his 1st French Open title, beating Andy Murray in the final.

Rafael Nadal Wimbledon 2022

Another walkover coming from Rafa Nadal was at the 2022 Wimbledon Championships. Following an abdominal tear that Nadal sustained in his quarter-final match with Taylor Fritz, he was forced to withdraw from his blockbuster semi-final clash with Aussie Nick Kyrgios. 

This gave Nick a walkover into the final with Novak Djokovic, where he would be beaten by the Serbian in 4 sets.

Milos Raonic Miami 2016

Milos Raonic has always been known as one of the hardest-working tennis players on the ATP World Tour. However, this highly strung approach to training and conditioning has meant Milos has suffered from a few injuries over the years. 

One of these came prior to a mouth-watering matchup with Andy Murray at the Miami Open in 2016, where Raonic was forced to withdraw due to a hamstring injury. This gave Murray a walkover, but he would then be beaten by an inspired Grigor Dimitrov in three close sets.

Nancy Richey 1966 Australian Open 

One of the most unusual walkover occurrences that happened in the women’s game is that of Nancy Richey at the 1966 Australian Open. 

Richely was due to face Margaret Court, who would go on to be a 24-time grand slam champion. Richely withdrew prior to the match due to injury, giving Court the title.

Roger Federer French Open 2021 

In 2021, Roger Federer found himself on the comeback trail, playing one of his few remaining clay court events at the French Open. The great Swiss player won 3 rounds on the dirt, before being forced to withdraw from the tournament due to ongoing knee injuries. 

He would then hand the walkover to Matteo Berrettini, who would be defeated by Novak Djokovic in the following rounds. Djokovic would then go on to win the final from two sets to love down against Tsitsipas!

Naomi Osaka Western & Southern Open 2020

At the 2020 Western & Southern Open, Naomi Osaka was due to play an in-form Victoria Azarenka in what would be a very entertaining match. 

However, in one of the most unusual and somber withdrawals in the tennis world, Osaka decided not to play her semi-final match in protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by US Police. Civil unrest broke out in response to the killing, and many high-profile sporting fixtures were suspended as a result. 

Walkovers in Tennis & How to Improve Your Game

In summary, walkovers in tennis do not occur that often, but when they do, the player on the receiving end of them gets a well-earned break. This can sometimes upset the natural rhythm of the tournament, especially in one week-long, best of 3 set events. 

However, sometimes players simply can’t step out onto the court and compete due to injury and simply have no other choice but withdraw from their scheduled match, handing their opponent a walkover. 

We hope this article has given you an insight into what a walkover in tennis is, why they occur, and a few examples of the most high-profile walkovers in tennis history. 

For more great free, informational content to help you improve your understanding of the game, check out these articles below: 

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