Responsibilities of Tennis Referees


Tennis referees hold a variety of responsibilities, depending on the event at which they officiate. Referees ensure that competitions -- such as tournaments or high school or intercollegiate matches -- follow uniform rules. Referees also make subjective calls, deciding arguments, stopping play for bad weather or declaring a court unplayable.

Umpire vs. Referee

A tennis umpire remains on one court, managing one match. The umpire keeps the score, overrules bad calls and settles disputes. A referee roams the facility at a multi-court event that does not have enough officials to provide an umpire at each match. Referees may be called to specific courts to officiate a portion of a match.

Pre- and Post-Match Responsibilities

A referee might run an event by himself or share some administrative responsibilities with an event director. If the referee makes a tournament draw, he must make it in public with at least one, unbiased witness. A referee may be tasked with making sure each court is playable. This includes making sure the playing surface is safe, the net is the correct height, the lighting is adequate, the court is dry or that the temperature is not too cold or hot. A referee enforces match start times, issuing penalties and disqualifications for late starts. The referee may assist the tournament director in assigning players’ subsequent match times, depending on when a player finishes her last match. He may be required to record and report scores to the hosting body.


A referee settles disputes when two players disagree. If a referee is summoned to a court after an event occurs, he must use his judgment to make a ruling. Referees may temporarily officiate a match if there are enough officials to provide another roaming referee or referees. For example, if a player requests a line judge or asks that a player be watched for foot faults, the referee may stay on the court until that match is finished. A referee may declare a racket, its strings or a player’s shoes illegal for play. A referee may verify a player’s identity.

Referee Rules

Referees should wear clothing that identifies them as officials. They should introduce themselves to players, but should not fraternize with them. This includes not rooting for a player, clapping for any points, offering water or towels, re-gripping rackets or retrieving balls. Referees should not make calls from outside the playing area, even if a shot looks obvious from where they stand. They should not yell instructions or warnings to players, but should enter the court area and privately discuss rules clarifications, warnings, penalties or defaults with players. Referees must report is or her own personal conflicts to a tournament director, such as a relative, student or teammate who is playing in the event.