12 December 2019

Unsafe to play: the rules and etiquette of calling off a match

Playing throughout the year, even on outdoor courts, is perfectly possible in Britain, but sometimes it just isn't safe to be on court. So how do you call off a match and what happens if the players can't agree?

Safety first

When players commit to playing a match in Local Tennis Leagues, they do so at their own risk. This doesn't mean that courts have always to be of Wimbledon standard or that venue operators don't have their own responsibilities for providing safe facilities. But it does mean players have a duty of care to themselves and an obligation to respect the concerns of their opponents. 

Reflecting this, our rules state that either player (or any of the players in a doubles match) have the absolute right to call off a match if the conditions are unsafe. Local Tennis Leagues will always support players who make this call.

Calling off a match in advance

If the weather forecast and/or current conditions (snow on the ground for instance) makes it obvious that a match is going to be impossible, it makes sense to call off the encounter. However, players should always tell their opponent what's happening and at all times be aware of the walkover rule. To make sure your opponent doesn't claim a late cancellation (less than 24 hours before the match) as a walkover:

  • Contact your opponent and explain the situation Make sure you get a reply.
  • Never assume that it is "obvious" that play will be impossible
  • Respect your opponent's view. If you can't agree that an arranged match will be impossible to play, you should both turn up to play at the scheduled time and make a decision based on the actual court conditions.

Assessing court conditions

When you arrive at the courts, players should make a quick assessment of the state of the courts. There are few hard and fast rules about when a court becomes unplayable but:

  • Never attempt to play if there is ice on court

Sometimes is not entirely possible to tell if a court is playable until you try it. Usually you will be able to make a decision during the warm up, but you may also make the decision within a few games of the start of the match. Both players don't have to agree. If you think it is unsafe to play, it is.

Generally, once you have decided to play you should respect that decision. It isn't fair to use the excuse of the court conditions and pull out of a match if you are losing. However, if conditions change during the match - it begins to rain or ice over - play must be stopped if either player requests it. Matches should be recorded as "to be continued" even if you won't have a chance to complete it.

Playing in the cold

Cold weather is not in itself a barrier to playing tennis. Most experts agree that physical excise is safe even in quite cold conditions but as Winter Fitness, an article from the Mayo Institute in the States makes clear, individuals need to assess their own medical condition and everyone should be aware of the symptoms of exposure to the cold including hyperthermia. Matches should not be called off just because it is cold unless both players agree.

See our story about getting prepared for playing in the cold here.

Keen to start playing? Find the league nearest you here

Main pic, Danger Keep of the Ice (edited) by Alan Cleaver through Creative Commons