Tennis Time Violation Penalty

Tennis Time Violation Penalty

In tennis, there are specific amounts of time allowed for the warm-up, changes of ends, between points, and for an injury time-out. These limits are intended to make sure that there are no undue delays, whether inadvertent or tactical, and matches are completed within a reasonable amount of time.

Of course, in practice, players do not always adhere to these limits, and a time warning or time violation can be awarded.

Continuous Play Rules

The ATP and WTA have very similar rules in this area. Essentially, they require that play is continuous, and a player shall not ‘unreasonably delay’ a match for any cause. Players must be ready to play by the end of the allowed interval, and, in addition, the receiver must play to the reasonable pace of the server.

Official Time Limits

  • A maximum of 25 seconds is allowed from the moment the ball goes out of play until the commencement of the next point.
  • There should be no undue delay between first and second serves.
  • 90 seconds are allowed between points at a change of ends.
  • 120 seconds are allowed at the end of a set.
  • The warm up will normally be timed at 4 minutes, with players then given 60 seconds to be ready to play.
  • 3 minutes are allowed for a medical time-out.

Umpires are expected to enforce these limits strictly, unless there are external factors which prevent the players from continuing. In recent years, a shot-clock has been placed on court at most professional tournaments to make things clearer for both players and spectators.

Time Warning In Tennis

The first time a player breaches one of the official time limits, the umpire should administer a warning. Far and away the most common situation where this will happen is when a

takes slightly too long to serve, although there are occasions where a returner is clearly delaying the server, and in this event the former should be warned. 

Tennis Serve Time Violation

If the shot clock shows zero time remaining before a player has started their service action, a time violation has occurred and a warning should be issued. Subsequent offences will result in ‘loss of serve’, so, essentially, the player’s first serve is taken away.

If the umpire believes the receiver to be the one delaying play, they can warn that player, with subsequent offences being punishable by a point penalty.

Player Opinions About Time Violations

This tends to depend upon their playing style.

As an attacking player, Roger Federer always liked fairly strict adherence to the time limits, as he would rather see opponents struggling to recover after he had forced them to move all over the court.

As a grinder, Rafael Nadal would rather he was allowed extra rest following a point where he has worked hard, in order that he can do the same again on the next one.

Examples Of Time Violations

Players never like being called for marginal time violations.

Here are three examples involving Thanasi Kokkinakis, Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal. The circumstances differ, but the common factor is that all are displeased.

Kokkinakis is unhappy because he feels that he was not the cause of the delay. Kyrgios has an even stronger point, as replays show that he was actually in the middle of his service action when time elapsed.

The Nadal example is a little more nuanced. Many umpires are intimidated by Nadal, and would not give him a time violation even if he was consistently a second or two over the time. This umpire was prepared to give him a time violation, but undoubtedly did not do so at the earliest opportunity, leading Nadal to believe he had just waited for an important point.


Time violations are a controversial issue in tennis, as players like to take as much recovery time as possible prior to following a rigid pre-serve routine. Nonetheless, from the viewpoint of the audience, they do not really want to spend 25% of the match time watching players robotically bouncing a ball while mentally rehearsing their strategies. Time  violations and warnings must be handed out to keep things moving.

My personal preference is for umpires to strictly enforce the time limits, as it discourages attacking play if baseliners are allowed to rest for as long as they like between points. They can then continue to play a defensive counterhitting game, and it becomes extremely difficult to wear them down with positive plays like moving to the net and rushing them.

Where do you stand on this debate? Let us know via the comments.

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