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What is the Difference Between Officiated and Unofficiated Tennis Matches? Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 185

By Kselz @TennisFixation

If you have listened to past episodes of Tennis Quick Tips, then you already know how much I love to talk about the rules and matches and how that all works. But one thing I've never really talked about, for some unknown reason, is the difference between officiated and unofficiated tennis matches. And specifically, how the rules can be a little different depending on whether you are playing an officiated or an unofficiated match. So in this episode we'll get into the difference between officiated and unofficiated matches and why you should care.

You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player in this post or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in Apple Podcasts by clicking on this link:


So, let's start with one of the big things we all know about tennis but may not think too much about And that is that in many, many of the matches that we recreational players play, our opponent is also our umpire. In you play in tournaments, then you probably have access to some type of official or umpire for your match. But if you are playing in a league or on your club ladder or just for fun, your opponent is going to be the one making the calls and, no surprise here, your opponent has a definite interest in those calls going against you.

Having said that, it is important to realize that, as far as the rules go, there is an actual difference between officiated and unofficiated matches. And I think this is an important distinction to discuss because a lot of what I talk about here on Tennis Quick Tips, especially a lot of what I say about the rules of tennis, really applies in unofficiated matches.


First, let's look at officiated matches. In an officiated match, as you might imagine, you have an official, either on court or somewhere nearby, that will make determinations regarding the rules. In pro tournaments at the very highest levels, there will be a whole lot of officials involved. There can be a chair umpire who is in charge of enforcing the rules. There can be line umpires who are calling the lines but can be overruled by the chair umpire. There might be a chief umpire who is the boss of the chair umpires and line umpires and deals with any officiating problems or requests from officials. There can be a referee who is ultimately responsible for making sure that the competition is fair and played following the rules and regulations for that tournament.

Now, not every tournament will have all of these officials on hand. For example, a few years ago as I've mentioned in other episodes, I worked as a USTA roving official at local tournaments here in Houston. We didn't have chair umpires or line umpires. There were just officials like me. I basically walked around all of the courts making myself visible and available should problems arise. There would be just a couple of us at these tournaments roving around, with one designated chief umpire. And that means we definitely did not see everything that happened on every court and we often had to solve problems after they had already occurred.

Now, here's the really important thing to know about an officiated match. At an officiated match, a chair umpire or a roaming umpire can make the final call on something even if the players aren't asking for that call to be made. Here's a comment I received in an email from an actual tennis official a few months ago, Peter, pointing out this very thing. Peter says:

[I]t needs to be stressed that there is a difference in ruling between officiated and non-officiated matches. At an officiated match, a chair umpire or "roaming" umpire may make the final call on whether a foul shot/not up or "let" occurred. They can thus overrule the call by a player or stop play even if neither player called a double bounce. Additionally if a player erroneously calls an opponent's double-bounce, the umpire can overrule and the player will lose the point.

Thanks so much Peter for sending me your email and clarifying this point. Because do you see what Peter's saying? In an officiated match, the official can call a rules violation even if the players do not see it or are not complaining about it. And he or she can even overrule a call made by a player if he or she believes the player's call is erroneous.

So at an officiated match, should a rules question come up or should you think your opponent is making bad calls, you can call on an official to help you and make the determination. A lot of the rules stuff is taken out of your hands. Although not entirely! No, not by any means. But in an officiated match, the court official is in charge of the rules and what he or she says pretty much goes.


But what happens at an unofficiated match? Because if you're not playing in a tournament, if you're playing regular old league tennis, or even just fun tennis, who makes these decisions on the rules?

This is where tennis is truly an unusual sport. Because, as I said at the beginning of this episode, in your typical unofficiated match, you and your opponents are making these crucial decisions on the rules. Think about that - in unofficiated matches, the person who most wants to beat you, your opponent, is also the person making rules decisions about what's happening on court. Your opponent is the one who decides if your serve was in or out. Your opponent is the one who decides if your lob was long or good. Your opponent is the one who decides if your amazing sharp angle volley just caught the line . . . or didn't.


And this is why it is so important that you not only know the rules of tennis but you also be very aware of The Code. I know I'm always going on about how you need to know the rules of tennis and I have referred to The Code in most of those episodes, but The Code and the rules of tennis are two different things and you definitely need to be aware of that and know both the rules and The Code.

I can't overstate the importance of knowing the provisions of The Code and what your league may have said about the application of The Code in your matches. For example, in one of the leagues I play in, one of the league rules states: " The Code as a handbook of ethics and fair play should be understood and followed by every HLTA player. Captains and team members are urged to familiarize themselves with the official USTA rules and The Code." So, believe me, I have a copy of The Code in my tennis bag, along with my copy of the rules, to whip out should something come up during one of my matches.


The full name of The Code is actually The Code: The Player's Guide to Fair Play and the Unwritten Rules of Tennis. I often refer to The Code because it applies in many of the matches that you and I play. But, be aware, The Code is NOT part of the ITF Rules of Tennis. That is actually stated in the very first sentence of The Code. The second sentence says:

Players shall follow The Code, expect to the extent to which an official assumes some of their responsibilities.

In its preface, The Code further states:

The Code shall apply in cases not specifically covered by the ITF Rules of Tennis or the USTA Regulations . . . . There are a number of things not specifically set forth in the rules that are covered by custom and tradition only . . . . These are the reasons a code is needed.

Finally, The Code expands all of this in Paragraph 6 which says:

When a match is played without officials, the players are responsible for making decisions, particularly for line calls. There is a subtle difference between player decisions and those of an on-court official. An official impartially resolves a problem involving a call, whereas a player is guided by the principle that any doubt must be resolved in favor of an opponent.

So The Code exists to help us know what to do and how to handle issues that may not be addressed by the rules in our unofficiated matches.

I'm going to include a link in the show notes to the USTA's Friend at Court which includes not only the rules of tennis, but also The Code. This is a fantastic resource for my listeners here in the United States. If you're in another country, which I know many of you are, be sure and find your country's tennis authority's version of the rules and The Code because I know you've got these.


Now, there are lots and lots of things in The Code that will impact how you make your calls during your unofficiated matches. And I'm not going to quote all of them here because you can and should read them for yourself. Instead, I'm just going to quote the other part of Paragraph 6 of The Code which basically tells you The Code's philosophy of how tennis should be played and how you should be making calls during your matches. It says:

Opponent gets benefit of doubt. A player should always give the opponent the benefit of any doubt . . . . A player in attempting to be scrupulously honest on line calls frequently will keep a bll in play that might have been out or that the player discovers too late was out. Even so, the game is much better played this way.

So that's it for this week's Tennis Quick Tip. Now that we all know the difference between officiated and unofficiated matches, I know you're going to want to listen to next week's episode. Because next week I'm going to talk about something we all need to know. And that's how to deal with cheaters on the tennis court. Be sure you're subscribed because you definetly are not going to want to miss that episode!


Here's that link to the USTA's website where you can find the Rules of Tennis and The Code in both English and Spanish:

Also, the ITF has a ton of fascinating information on tennis officiating here:


I would love it if you would take a minute to leave your review on Apple Podcasts. Just click here: Tennis Quick Tips on Apple Podcasts. It will help the show become more easily discovered by like-minded, awesome people just like you. And if you want to make sure you never miss an episode, be sure and subscribe on your smart device. You can click here to find the show on Apple Podcasts: Tennis Quick Tips on Apple Podcasts. Or you can click here to find the show in Stitcher: Tennis Quick Tips on Stitcher.


And if you're interested in really tuning up your tennis serve, be sure and grab my totally free cheat sheet, 10 Quick Fixes to Improve Your Serve: No Lessons Required. In it, I give my ten absolutely best tips for getting a better serve fast. Just go to:

to get instant access to that free resource. It's a one page cheat sheet that you can keep in your tennis bag and pull out any time you're on court. Even during your matches!

And if you have any questions about any of this stuff, you can always reach out to me by emailing [email protected]. I would love to hear from you!

Thanks so much for listening and, as always, . . . Happy Tennis!

© Kim Selzman 2020 All Rights Reserved

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