Periodically during a tennis match, the players change ends. This is intended to ensure that, where a match takes place outdoors, one player is not particularly favoured by conditions such as the angle of the Sun or the direction of the wind. In this article I will look at the tennis changeover rules in detail.
Tennis Changeover Rules – ITF
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) are the body who set most of the rules governing all levels of the sport. The official changeover rule is copied below:
The players shall change ends at the end of the first, third and every subsequent odd game of each set. The players shall also change ends at the end of each set unless the total number of games in that set is even, in which case the players change ends at the end of the first game of the next set. During a tie-break game, players shall change ends after every six points
The rule largely speaks for itself. Of course, in practice, this does not mean that the changes of ends come at regular intervals, as a single game can take as little as 60 seconds if the server is dominating, or as much as 20 minutes if there are many deuces.
How Long Is A Tennis Changeover?
The ITF rule states:
When the players change ends at the end of a game, a maximum of ninety (90) seconds are allowed. However, after the first game of each set and during a tie-break game, play shall be continuous and the players shall change ends without a rest. At the end of each set there shall be a set break of a maximum of one hundred and twenty (120) seconds.
Again, the practical impact of this rule is not quite as consistent as the ITF no doubt intended. For example, after the first game of a set or during a tie-break play is not really ‘continuous’, as players saunter over to their bag to take a drink and towel down. Very few players simply stride purposefully to the other end of the court, ready to resume play immediately.
Seniors Tennis Changeovers
In Seniors tennis, you will sometimes come across players who have been in the game for a very long time and who are not familiar with the current changeover rules, which can lead to confusion and disputes.
They still believe that they should take a break of around 90 seconds at the completion of every odd game, during which they are allowed to sit down. They have not processed the change, made many years ago, requiring a two minute break at the end of a set, irrespective of the number of games completed, and the associated removal of the interval after the first game of each set.
There is one area in which the changeover rules for ITF seniors (‘Masters) tournaments differ from those from other events. If a tie-break is played, players must change ends after the first point, as well as after every subsequent four points until the tie-break is decided. Play should be continuous at each change, so there is too be no sitting down- some older players need to be monitored carefully at this stage of a match.
In ITF Masters events, therefore, you need to be aware of players who do not know the rules, as well as those who try to circumvent them to gain an advantage. The tie-break rule can be confusing to everyone, and can seem illogical, although it is intended to make things fairer by giving players two service points from each end following every change.
In professional tennis, players tend to follow the rules to whatever extent the umpire asks them to, so while there is not absolute consistency, there is rarely any real controversy. Although the break itself is not normally an issue, players do have to walk past one another through what can be a narrow gap alongside the court. This led to one infamous incident at the US Open.
In 1997, Irina Spirlea of Romania was enjoying her career-best year, during which she would break into the top 10 and reach the semi-final of the US Open.
During that latter match, Spirlea felt that at changes of ends her opponent, a young Venus Williams, was simply marching to her chair and expecting Spirlea to get out of her way. Spirlea decided part way through the second set that she would not do this any more, and very consciously blocked Venus’ path, resulting in a ‘bump’.
Spirlea undoubtedly hoped that standing her ground would unsettle the young American, and it almost worked as she came within a point of victory in the third set before Venus ultimately prevailed.
The tennis changeover rules are quite clear and simple, although in practice they can result in very different frequencies of changeover.
- Players change ends after every odd-numbered game, and at the end of a set.
- In a tie-break, ends are changed after every six points, except in ITF Masters events where the change occurs after the first point and every subsequent four.
- There is a break of 90 seconds at most changes of ends. In a tie-break and after the first game of a set, play is ‘continuous’, so competitors cannot sit down and should quickly resume play.
- At the end of a set a two minute break is allowed.
- Players should also try not to bump into their opponent at changes of ends!
Have you had any interesting experiences with the change of ends rules? Let us know via the comments.
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