If you played tennis at some level of competitiveness and never smashed a racket or at least felt the urge to do so, you would be among the most elite of tennis players. Because this act has slowly become so prevalent it’s comes as a surprise when one hasn’t watched a racket smash – or six – in a competition.
The question is, why do tennis players feel the urge to smash their rackets despite knowing the consequences of that wouldn’t be the best? In an individual sport like tennis where mistakes can be made by players, the absence of a team member or a coach to ease out their negative emotions during a match could lead to frustration and that attention could turn to the player’s racket.
Below is the list of reasons why tennis players smash their rackets during a match. We have also compiled the rules surrounding this act, the penalties associated with it and some of the biggest offenders on the men’s and women’s circuit.
We have also looked at other racket sports and how do players respond to their own frustrations in those sport, and whether or not they smash rackets there too.
Why do Tennis Players Smash Their Rackets?
Below is the list of all possible reasons why tennis players end up smashing their rackets during a match.
Out of Frustration
The biggest reason for tennis players smashing their rackets is sheer frustration.
And while it makes for ugly scenes at times, do remember that tennis players are on their own on the court. They receive anywhere between little to no help from their coaches and at times could have the partisan crowds against them as well.
That being the case, frustrations stemming from the need to overcome any on-court issues tends to get endured by the only piece of equipment the player has handy – the tennis racket.
Here’s why players could get extremely miffed and frustrated during a tennis match, leading to racket abuse.
Anger at Their Own Mistakes
Unforced errors, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is ‘a missed shot or lost point (as in tennis) that is entirely a result of the player’s own blunder and not because of the opponent’s skill or effort’.
It is essentially a mistake made by the player leading to the loss of a point and a cause for immense frustration.
At times, a buildup of various events leading up to an unforced error could be a cause of racket abuse at the hands of the player.
Anger at Officials’ Supposed Mistake
At times players aren’t happy with the calls made by the chair umpires or the linesmen and women. This could be because of a mistake made by the officials that cannot be reversed or what the player perceives to be a mistake (but isn’t actually one) in judging a line call.
Either ways, a player’s frustration could boil over, especially if he/she hasn’t been having a great phase and could lead to the racket getting smashed to smithereens.
Anger at Their Box…Sometimes!
This is rare but players do get frustrated by their own coaches and the coaching staff sitting in the players’ box. And while most times this could lead to the player yelling in the direction of his/her coaching staff, it could also lead to enough frustration and the punching of one’s tennis racket into the ground.
To Regain Control
At times, players could suffer from a case of nerves in the middle of a match and that could lead to a string of bad tactical or executional calls, causing them to lose points.
Players, at such times, could use outrage as a way to motivate themselves, or gee themselves up and one of the ways to get that adrenaline pumping could be to smash their rackets on the court.
Take the example of Novak Djokovic at the 2021 Australian Open where he was playing Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. Down 3-1 in the third set after the first two had been shared by the two players, Djokovic looked nervous and allowed Zverev a game point for a 4-1 lead.
What followed was a case of a racket smashed badly by Djokovic and the multiple-time Grand Slam winner regaining some of the control after that.
Even Djokovic admitted the same at the post-match press conference.
“When I broke that racket, things started to shift for me in a positive direction.”
Djokovic went on to win that match in four sets and later added a tournament victory to his already burgeoning list of majors triumphs.
Because They Can Afford to Do So
Sure, not everyone earns enough in tennis to make a good living out of it – especially not those who are ranked outside the top 100 – but compare the sport with some of the others in the world, and you would find it to be one of the richer ones around.
What this means is the top players in the world are handsomely compensated for their plying their trade by the ATP and WTA tournament organizers, not to mention the four Grand Slams – Australian Open (prize money here), French Open (prize money here), Wimbledon (prize money here) and US Open (prize money here).
And this is discounting the sponsors’ deals they sign up, which pays them in the form of cash or equipment itself.
With that being the case, losing one’s racket and paying a hefty fine to a frustration-driven outburst doesn’t pinch as much as it would to some of the other racket sport players.
Is Racket Smashing Allowed in Tennis?
According to the Rules and Regulations of Tennis, smashing of rackets or racket abuse as they call it, comes under unsportsmanlike conduct. And as a result of that, the smashing of a tennis racket is met with some form of a penalty or fine.
This conduct has other transgressions made by players as well, including but not restricted to audible obscenity, coaching, ball abuse, verbal abuse, visible obscenity, no press, and time violations among others.
Incidentally, racket abuse is one of the biggest violation in tennis with hundreds of cases reported each year on both, the men’s and women’s circuits.
So, What is the Penalty for Breaking a Racket in Tennis?
It’s not just about breaking a racket. Racket abuse includes the act of trying to “intentionally, dangerously and violently destroying or damaging racquets or equipment or intentionally and violently hitting the net, court, umpire’s chair or other fixture during a match out of anger or frustration” which might not always lead to the breaking of the racket obviously.
On the ATP circuit, the penalty for violating the above rule comes with a fine of $500 while on the WTA tour, there is a fine of $2500 per violation.
On the lower circuit, i.e. the ITF competitions, it’s typically a fine of $200 per violation but it’s also dependent on what the tournament supervisor decides.
Do Other Racket Sportspersons Also Break Their Rackets?
It’s not like players taking part in other sports do not get frustrated for some of the aforementioned reasons. But do they break their rackets in turn? Let’s take the examples of the various other racket sports players.
Badminton players usually express their frustration by yelling at themselves but there are also other subtle ways they end up doing that.
For instance, some badminton players end up not passing the shuttle-cock back to their opponents after losing a point, or even kick it away in their direction. It’s not too often, however, you would see badminton players smash their own rackets deliberately out of frustration.
Table Tennis players are more prone to kicking tables than breaking rackets when frustrated but there are those who do end up smashing their bats too.
Still, the instances of table tennis players kicking up such a storm that it leads to a deliberate breaking of their table tennis paddles aren’t as common as those found in tennis matches.
Squash players have been known to end up with a broken racket as a result of their frustration boiling over, much in the same manner as tennis players. And much like in tennis, squash players are also then penalized with a code violation and some sort of a fine for racket abuse.
Which Tennis Players Break the Most Rackets?
While breaking tennis rackets in frustration is commonplace in tennis despite the obvious punishment that follows, some players look more keen to doing so than others.
Here’re a few of the top players at the moment whose on-court frustrations have led to their poor rackets bearing the brunt.
- Marat Safin: Probably holds the record for the most number of rackets broken across his career. Some estimates put him down to more than 700 tennis rackets gone.
- John McEnroe: When you got a temper like John McEnroe, it isn’t surprising you would be on this list too. McEnroe has exerted the will of his temper tantrums in different ways and smashing his racket court-side is just one of those.
- Fernando Gonzalez: Chile’s Gonzalez was once ranked fifth on the ATP charts but that didn’t stop him from making a YouTube racket smash compilation video consisting of a lot of the times he blasted his racket into oblivion. Here’s that video.
- Serena Williams: Among women’s players, not too many would argue Serena is one of the greatest of all times – if not the greatest – but that doesn’t take away from the fact she has had her on-court temper tantrums leading to some of her rackets having borne the ire.
- Simona Halep: Halep has this habit of throwing her rackets around but not a lot of them have suffered a lot of damage in the process. May be a part of her still loves those rackets.
- Goran Ivanisevic: How can you not include a guy who once broke so many rackets in a match out of frustration, he was left with none and had to default his match. Yep, true story. Happened to Ivanisevic at the Brighton Open in 2000.
- Marcos Baghdatis: Baghdatis once broke four rackets in a span of less than a minute. Again, bizarre but true.
- Nick Kyrgios: Much like McEnroe, Kyrgios has had his share of temper issues on the court and racket abuse has been one of the many misdemeanors he has been penalized for. So much so, he was penalized a whopping $119,000 after one such match.
- Yulia Putintseva: Kazakh’s Yulia Putintseva has been a top-30 player on the WTA circuit and won a couple of titles as well but is more known for her on-court drama. This, not surprisingly, has included her share of racket-smashes.
Final Words on Tennis Players Breaking Their Rackets
Frustration and anger are the two biggest reasons for players to end up with broken rackets during tennis matches.
And while players know they would be penalized with a code violation and a monetary fine after every such instance of breaking their rackets, some find it tougher to control themselves than the rest.
At the end of the day, though, it’s the tennis racket that bears the brunt, even ending up with a fan from the crowd as players look to dispose off such equipment in the best possible manner.