What Is A Game Penalty In Tennis

what is a game penalty in tennis

  Your Guide

Gavin Davison

Gavin Davison

Let’s face it - tennis players can have a bit of a temper on them.

Throughout the many decades that this sport has been played at the highest level, we’ve seen rackets smashed, verbal abuse, balls whacked out of stadiums, arguments, fights, and much more! 

Of course, this kind of behaviour doesn’t tend to go without punishment, which is where the world of penalties enters the picture.

Penalties in tennis simply refer to the punishments that players can receive should they engage in some rather poor behaviour, and these punishments can be quite varied - depending on how far the players stray over the wrong side of the tracks that is. 

In this quick piece, I’ll be focusing specifically on game penalties and how they can be given, why they are given, and how they impact a game.

So, ready to discover more about these rather unfortunate punishments?

Let’s jump right into it.

Behaviour that can result in penalties

As I’ve mentioned above, there are various penalties that can be given in tennis, with some that are more extreme than others.

In this section, I’d like to highlight specifically what kind of behaviour can lead to such penalties. 

Racket abuse

Oh, how tennis rackets have suffered over the years. As the saying goes, a bad workman will always blame his equipment/tools, but in tennis, rather than blame them - it seems players like to smash them to bits instead.

Perhaps the most epic I’ve ever witnessed was Marcos Baghdatis obliterating four rackets in a row at the 2012 Australian Open:

Now, I wouldn’t recommend replicating the same behaviour as things could get rather expensive, but when the red mist rises - it’s almost an automatic response for players to dismantle the racket in disgust. 

Verbal abuse

While some players prefer to smash up rackets to vent their frustrations, there are others that just have to make their feelings known. Verbal abuse doesn’t specifically need to be targeted at any certain individual either, it can be given should players have an outburst that involves foul or insulting language.

I must admit, one of my all-time favourites for this one would be John McEnroe - arguably the most famous verbal abuser of them all.

You are probably aware of the ‘you cannot be serious’ comment that has become synonymous with McEnroe since, but just in case you’re not, you have to see this video:

Should players get a little too lively in the verbal abuse department, you can be almost certain that penalties won’t be far behind.

Although I must also say, players are getting a little wiser to this specific category since they will now shout out in their own respective languages so that the umpire might not understand - therefore avoiding penalties.

But as clever as this may seem on the surface, players will often be picked up for it after a game, and some hefty fines can be handed out. 

Ball abuse

Rather than taking it out on the racket, some players prefer to take things out on the ball instead. This may seem a little unusual, which it is, but we tennis players tend to be a bit of a strange breed - you have to be to make it in any individual sport!

And on this note, you might see players whack the ball out of the grounds, whack it into the back wall, and whatever other targets take their fancy during a fit of rage.

Although this can often go wrong quite badly!

Most recently, even the great Novak Djokovic decided to hit a ball in anger at the 2020 US Open, and since it hit a lines judge, he actually got defaulted from the tournament. 

It was an enormous scandal, and if you missed it, check out the article right here.

Unsportsmanlike conduct

This is a bit of a ‘catch-all’ category, as unsportsmanlike conduct really can be anything.

I guess it all depends on how crazy a player gets on the day, but let me tell you now - there are some seriously whacky players out there!

Whether it’s the now-retired Marat Safin pulling his shorts down after losing a point, the great Serena Williams threatening to kill a lines judge, or Viktor Troicki taking the TV camera over to show a ball mark on the court - unsportsmanlike conduct rarely ends well for the player. 

What needs to happen for a game penalty to be given

As far as tennis penalties go, receiving a game penalty is actually quite severe. So as you’d imagine, it’s not something that is immediately given by an umpire.

In fact, there are three steps that need to happen first before a game penalty is handed out (with the third being a game penalty), as I’ve shown below:

1) Warning

This is the very first penalty that is announced by an umpire.

And to be perfectly honest with you, it doesn’t have much of an impact except pushing that player further along the line towards penalties that will change the game.

With that said, some players can receive fines should the warning be given for something that was a little more serious, although in terms of impacting the actual score of the match, receiving a warning won’t do anything.

If you’re keen on tennis terminology, technically speaking, a warning is also known as a ‘code violation’, which simply means that the player has crossed the rules of the game. 

2) Point penalty

If a player has received a warning and the bad behaviour continues, the next thing that will be issued by an umpire is a point penalty.

Just to clarify, a point penalty will never be given unless that specific player has already picked up a warning or a code violation.

And as the name itself indicates, when a player receives a point penalty, their opponent will actually receive a point for doing absolutely nothing.

Depending on the stage of the match, a point penalty can make quite a difference, and it can completely swing the momentum of a game.

As far as point penalties go, the strangest one I can think of in recent years was Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon in 2017.

After behaving pretty poorly in general, Medvedev decided to start throwing coins at the umpire’s chair - I did tell you tennis players were a little crazy!

It’s actually quite an interesting story, which you can read all about right here.

3) Game penalty

And finally, we get to the ultimate reason that I’ve put this article together, the dreaded game penalty.

As stated above, receiving a point penalty is far from ideal, but beyond this, a player can be docked an entire game, which is where this punishment comes into effect.

Since a player has to burn through a warning and a point penalty before receiving this, it’s not all that common, but it does happen.

Most recently, Russian tennis player Ivashka was actually docked a game during a 2020 ATP event, where he nipped to the toilet during a medical time out.

This toilet break took him beyond the time he was allowed, and the umpire handed him a game penalty, which did not go down well - let me tell you that! 

Beyond game penalties, things can get truly ugly, with a player then being defaulted from a match, with enormous fines being handed out for crossing this boundary!

Have you found this article useful? Have you got any more stories relating to players getting game penalties? Let us know in the comments!

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