“It’s too dark to play!”

You are playing a tournament or league match late in the day and your opponents claim (after losing the first set) that it is too dark to continue to play.  What do you do?

Longboat Key Tournament

That is what happened to my doubles partner, Matt Davie, and me on Wednesday in our first of three round-robin doubles matches.  It was a close first set, which we won 6-4; but our opponents then came to the net claiming they couldn’t see the ball and wanted to stop play.

While the sun had moved below the tree line to the west, it was still a half hour before official sunset and light enough for Matt and me to continue playing on.

The tournament referee came over to see what was happening; and when we told him the status and opinions, he said it was still half hour till sunset.  But our opponents insisted and we stopped play.

What is the rule?  Could we or the referee insisted they play on?

We will have to complete the match today (or on Friday) and play our second round robin match. To see all the results from this CAT II tournament, just click HERE.

Rule Change? A good part of the scheduling problem comes from players who are entered in two different age group divisions; and they have competing match times.  Should they be only allowed to enter one age division; or is it a big enough benefit to work around it?

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11 thoughts on ““It’s too dark to play!”

  1. I have been under the impression that unless BOTH teams decide to stop, the referee has final say on conditions. If one team refuse to play, they should be defaulted. With my vision issues, I have often preferred to stop in fading light, but couldn’t. I’m very surprised your opponents were allowed to stop. I hope you guys kick their butt today. Good luck!

    Steve, me too. I am not sure what would have happened if we INSISTED on continuing to play; but we were “the nice guys” and did not. thanks, george

  2. I didn’t know opponent can overrule referee decision.

    Patrick, part of the problem was the referee really didn’t “decide.” Thanks, george

  3. I believe it is entirely the decision of the tournament referee to decide whether it is too dark, too windy, too rainy, etc. to continue play and both teams must abide by the decision, or default.

    Michael, the referee “suggested” it was still light enough; but did not push it (nor did Matt and I). thanks, george

  4. See Section 3, III, D of the USTA tennis regulations.
    Suspension or Postponement of Play The Referee or Deputy Referee in charge of a site may suspend or postpone play when weather, inadequate light, surface conditions, health concerns, safety concerns, or other circumstances justify doing so. When, in the opinion of the Chair Umpire or Roving Umpire, playing conditions justify suspension of the match, the official may advise the Referee or Deputy Referee. When possible the official shall obtain the Referee’s or Deputy Referee’s approval before suspending play. Suspension of a match because of darkness should be done at the end of an even number of games in a set or at the end of a set.

  5. Hi George. I have a crazy story that happened years ago and falls under the heading of “you can’t make this stuff up.” During a singles match, my opponent complained that it was too dark to play after I’d just evened the match at 1 set each. The site had lights so the tournament director was adamant that both players had to agree to stop play. Eventually, after going up 4-1 in the 3rd, I got tired of my opponent’s complaining and relented. The result: he beat me the next day.
    Fast forward one year. The exact same thing occurred with a different opponent. I refused to stop and finally got to match point in the 3rd set. I served, he returned and… the lights, which were on a timer, went out when the clock struck 10pm. We had to come back he next day and, as it turns out, play one point to finish the match.
    MORAL OF THE STORY: I believe that unless the tournament referee deems it too dark, both players or teams would have to agree to stop. But I also think the referee has the right to require both sides to continue until they make the call.

    Mike, two great stories. On the first one, if there were lights, why not play on? The referee today said he should have told us to play on till it got darker. thanks, george

  6. In my opinion the fair way to address the problem (recognizing that impaired vision and fading light is a real problem for some) would have been to continue play until the time of sunset, then suspend play, if necessary.

    As to the “Rule Change” (scheduling problem due to a player entering more than one age division): In general it may be a big enough benefit to try to work around it, but debatable – particularly if complicated by bad weather and for those impacted by having to travel a long distance to play. It might be a “toss up” or a “throw up”.

    Dag, on the first point, that is what Matt and i wanted to do. On the second, yes … benefit for some and pain for others. thanks, george

  7. George,
    Since my eye injury I have developed more tolerance for people with vision (and other) problems. Late day dimming light, cloudy moments in bright sunshine, and tree shadows on a court now affect me. Nevertheless, I don’t have the right to request special consideration when conditions are such that I have trouble seeing, any more than someone who is developing a blister, or whose asthma is acting up, etc., may expect special exception from ordinary rules of play. You and Matt were just being your usual nice selves when you acquiesced. I hope your acquiescence won’t nag at you and affect the outcome of your match tomorrow.

    Tom, see Mike K’s story above and being a “nice guy” about it. But you make a very valid point about a medical weakness. thanks, george

  8. George:

    The following logic seems unassailable:

    Rule 29 (Continuous Play) of the ITF rules says: “As a principle, play should be continuous, from the time the match starts (when the first service of the match is put in play) until the match finishes.”

    Meanwhile, the rule cited previously by Michael Fenster seems to be saying that, while a referee may suspend or postpone play because of darkness, it is not within the referee’s power to FORCE play to continue if the referee deems the light situation acceptable. That is simply not the referee’s call.

    Therefore, it would not be relevant that the referee, as you say, only “’suggested’ it was still light enough [to continue play] but did not push it.” So what? If all the referee is entitled to do on the issue is to stop a match when he/she thinks it is too dark anyway, then the “play should be continuous” rule automatically takes care of the issue of what must happen unless and until the referee DOES call the match because of darkness. That is, you keep going UNTIL the match is finished OR the referee comes back and definitively decides that the match IS to be suspended because of darkness. There is no in between position.

    Notwithstanding the above, I have no doubt that the players can, as a matter of common sense and courtesy (as you know, my two favorite watchwords), stipulate among themselves to stop play when one of the teams complains that it has gotten too dark. This is, in essence, what you all agreed to do, and you had every right to do that.

    But in terms of whether your opponents could be forced to continue to play despite their complaints about darkness, it would seem the “play should be continuous” rule automatically takes care of that. In other words, you and your partner did not need to be the nice guys that you showed you were and agree to finish the match the next day. You could have stood behind the rules and insisted on your opponents continuing despite their objection and notwithstanding the referee’s reluctance to get more definitively involved.

    – Marty

    Marty, great analysis! Also note Tom D’s analogy to other medical problems, which i thought was interesting insight (pun intended). thanks, george

  9. Well I was there.. I was the opponent.
    What if when one team wants to stop and ask… And one player of the other team says stop, and his partner says no, lets play a few more games? And The official has NO discussion with the “lets stop” team? And is who won the first set relevant to the decision?

    Ron, who won the first set should play no part in whether to continue or not; but both Matt and i were ready to continue playing. Sorry it caused such a scheduling conflict for all of us! thanks, george

  10. I was a witness at this match. It appeared to me that the consensus decision by both teams was to stop play due to darkness at the end of the first set and resume play at a later time. The first set was a long very competitive set. It is likely that the match would have stopped anyway due to darkness. The match was rescheduled by the tournament director and posted and should have been contested as scheduled.

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