Tennis Tie Break Rules

When Tennis matches are too close to call and both players seem to be equal in terms of skill level, a tie-break situation may occur. This practice is not exclusive to the game of tennis and is used in other sports, however, in tennis, there are specific rules and conditions that define a tie-break or tiebreaker match.

Scoring basics

Tennis is scored based on games, sets and matches. Each game is part of a “set” that requires players to win at least six matches in order to be victorious. Generally speaking, matches comprise of two or occasionally 3 sets, though this can vary.

Unlike football or rugby, where points are counted up in equal amounts for each consecutive goal or try, tennis works quite differently. The first point in a game is worth 15, the second is worth 30, the third is worth 40 and any points scored after this declare the player the winner.

In the case of two players both having won 3 points, the umpire will call deuce, which means they are both equal. Following this, the next point a player scores will give them the “advantage” and if they can successfully score another point after this, the game is theirs.

If players are very evenly matched and continue to score against each other consistently, this can create a situation where there is no clear winner, even after two or 3 full sets. In this case, a tiebreak situation is declared.

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The tiebreaker match

Unlike standard games, the tiebreak tennis match is scored a little differently. Players are still awarded points for each successful play in a game and points per game won, but the first person to reach seven will win both the tiebreak and the set.

This can create a very tense and unpredictable situation for both the crowd and the players themselves. After playing for a while, energy reserves will be low and it becomes far easier to make mistakes or misjudge shots.

Points in a tiebreak match are awarded one at a time from zero to seven. A player must have a clear two-point lead over their opponent to be declared the winner in this situation.

In some cases, players may have been awarded six points each, which always makes for an exciting finale to a game as the winner will then be the player who manages to score twice in a row.

Order of play and details of the tiebreaker

The player who served last will be allowed to go first and play the first ball in the set.

Following this, the other player is allowed to serve the next two points.

Turns are then taken after every 2 points.

Traditionally, when the score reaches six, tennis players swap sides and play from the opposite end of the court. This practice dates back to the birth of the game and keeps players alert, it also means that one person can not take advantage of performing better on one side of the court or the other.

Usually tiebreakers are played in every set of games other than the very last one.

The “last” game actually varies between men’s and women’s tennis, with female players expected to continue for 3 sets and male players having to play for 5 sets. In the last set, players are expected to continue serving to each other until one of them has developed a clear two-point lead over the other.

A rare occurrence?

Not as rare as you might think. Over the years there have been some absolutely nail-biting tiebreak matches that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats until the very last second.

In 2013 Benjamin Balleret won an incredible 70 point tiebreak that is arguably one of the longest matches in the history of the sport.

Bjorn Borg is still famous for his breathtaking performance at Wimbledon in 1973 where he defeated Premjit Laal 20 to 18. In women’s tennis, Akgul Amanmuradova is known for her phenomenal performance against Anna Zaja in 2017.

The match took place in Moscow as part of the ITF tournament and ended with a score of 22 to 20, an astonishingly long match for female tennis.

The history of the tiebreak

The phrase tiebreak or tiebreaker is now extremely well known across the globe and is used in all kinds of different sports. In tennis, tiebreaker become shortened to tiebreak by commentators and sports journalists.

The concept was invented in 1965 when the game was starting to grow in popularity across the world. James Van Alen is credited as the first person to introduce this new practice as a way of settling particularly close competitions.

First carried out as an experiment at a tournament that was held in Newport Casino, Rhode Island, USA, he initially suggested that the tiebreak rules would be a best five of seven points or best seven of twelve points.

The modern day version, also known as the twelve point tiebreaker, was the most popular version of this practice that Van Alen proposed. In 1971, the famous and much revered Wimbledon tennis tournament, held in London, England, adopted the nine-point tiebreaker system, but this was replaced by the more popular 12 point system in 1972.

The applications of the tiebreaker can vary from tournament to tournament, but it is now recognized as an integral part of the game.


Essentially, the tiebreaker or tiebreak was invented to provide closure for particularly close tennis matches. After winning six sets each, the umpire will officially declare a tiebreak situation and the players will be expected to continue serving to each other until one of them has emerged with a clear two-point lead over the other. Crowds love tense, hard-fought tiebreak matches because they push players to their absolute limits. Having already played for up to an hour or more, both competitors will be tired and mentally fatigued, meaning the results of many tiebreak situations are often quite surprising and difficult to predict.

Tennis Balls FAQ

The tennis ball is arguably the most important piece of tennis equipment.  After all, without good tennis balls, there is no game!  This article will share some of the frequently asked questions that players have about tennis balls.

What color is a tennis ball and why?

The tennis balls used at major sporting events are almost always fluorescent yellow.  Officials have chosen this color because it is very easy for the human eye to track at high velocities.  Recreational tennis balls can any color.

How big is a tennis ball?

According to the International Tennis Federation, the standard size of a tennis ball is

between 2½ inches (6.35cm) and 2 5/8 inches in diameter.  This is one of the oldest tennis ball specifications, dating back to 1880.

What is the mass of a tennis ball?

According to the United States Olympic Committee, a tennis ball should weigh between 2 and 2 1/16 ounces (57.7 and 58.5 grams).  The International Tennis Federation agrees, saying that all tennis balls used in their tournaments should be between two ounces (56.7 g) and 2 1/16 ounces (58.5 grams) in weight.

How many types of tennis balls are there?

There are three main classes of tennis balls:

  • Professional tennis balls
    These are premium, high-quality balls with excellent durability. They are used in professional tennis tournaments.
  • Championship tennis balls
    Championship balls are a small step down in terms of quality. They might lose pressure more rapidly and the felt isn’t as robust.  They are still great tennis balls and ideal for amateur competitions.
  • Practice tennis balls
    Practice balls are not high performance but are designed to last a long time. There are both pressured and pressure-less practice balls available.  The pressure-less balls are very dense and tough. If you are using a tennis ball machine (like these) you want pressureless balls.

How are hard court tennis balls different to clay/grass court?

The only difference between hardcourt and clay or grass tennis balls relates to the quality of the felt.  Hardcourt balls will have thicker felt that is made from a combination of nylon and wool.  It also has a looser weave than soft-court balls.  The thick felt on hardcourt balls doesn’t wear away as quickly, which helps the ball retain its flight characteristics for a longer period.

The tighter weave on clay/grass balls means they will pick up less clay and dirt when hitting the court surface.  This stops the balls from accumulating debris and becoming heavier during the game.  The tighter weave also means the balls can move faster through the air, which is useful on soft court surfaces where there isn’t as much bounce.

Do tennis balls have different speeds?

Yes!  The International Tennis Federation has defined three types of officially sanctioned balls:

  • Type 1 — a slightly faster ball that can be used on ‘slower’ court surfaces like clay and grass. It has less felt than a type 2 ball. Also called regular duty tennis balls.
  • Type 2 — the standard tennis ball, designed for use on outdoor hard courts. Also called extra duty tennis balls.
  • Type 3 — a larger, slow-speed ball that is specifically designed to be used at high altitude.

If you are an amateur player, chances are you will mostly use Type 2 balls.  You can view a full list of officially sanctioned balls here.

Do female professional tennis players use different tennis balls to males?

Surprisingly, the answer is usually yes.  Female tennis players often use a “faster” ball in competitive matches.  This allows them to play an aggressive style of tennis because each shot will move at a faster velocity.  Men use a slower ball to slow the pace of those big serves and make the gameplay more varied.

The key difference between fast and slow is how much felt the balls have on them.  A ball with less felt will move faster through the air, while the opposite is true for balls with more felt.  A ball with more felt will also contact the strings for a longer period, making it “feel” heavier to the player when they play a shot.

In the U.S. Open, women will use regular-duty felt Wilson Balls, while men will use the fluffier extra-duty Wilson balls.  The balls have the same size, weight, bounce, and pressure — but they travel through the air at different speeds and feel different to hit because of the differences in felt.

The difference in regular-duty and heavy-duty balls is obvious to professional tennis players who spend many hours on the court.  However, amateur players might not even notice the difference between faster and slower balls.

It’s important to note that women don’t always use a different ball.  All players competing at the Wimbledon Championships will use the same ball type (regular-duty).

How far should a tennis ball bounce?

All regulation tennis balls should bounce between 135-147 cm (53-58 inches) when dropped from a height of 254 cm (100 inches).  Type 3 (high altitude) tennis balls should bounce 122-135 cm (48-53 inches).

How do they make tennis balls?

The process for making tennis balls usually consists of several stages:

  1. Crushing – The raw materials that make up the ball are crushed together. Most tennis balls use a rubber combined with materials like clay to deaden the bounce of the ball slightly.
  2. Compressing – The rubber compound is sliced into smaller sheets and compression moulded into the shape of a semi-sphere.
  3. Sheeting – The semi-circles are removed from the mould tray and left to cool.
  4. Glueing – Each semi-sphere is cut to an exact height, then has its edges covered in heat activated adhesive. Then, the two shells are injected with compressed air and glued together under heat and high pressure.
  5. Buffing – The balls are abraded with sand-paper to create grooves that help the felt adhere to the surface.
  6. Felting – The balls are covered in glue, then covered in felt. Heat and pressure are applied again to ensure the glue is set.
  7. Packaging – The balls are branded and package in pressurized cans so the balls retain their pressure during transit.

Tennis Frequently Asked Questions

Tennis is a fun game, but it does involve quite a few rules.  It’s no wonder that newcomers to the sport are often confused by what is going on when they first watch a tennis match.  This Tennis FAQ will clear up some of the most common questions and talk you through the facts to help you get more enjoyment out of this great sport.

What is the start of a tennis match called?

The first shot played in any tennis match is called a service (or serve).  The first service is performed from the left side of the court’s baseline and must land in the left service box on the other side of the net.  Every subsequent serve will then change sides, with the server moving between the left and right sides of the base line. Take a look at the red arrow below to see how the server must direct their first serve.

Once the game is finished (see below to learn what a game is) the other player gets to serve.  Service continues to alternate when each game finishes.

How does tennis scoring work?

The tennis scoring system is perhaps the most complex part of the game, which is why some newcomers find it confusing.  A tennis match has pointsgamesand sets.


After the ball is successfully served, each player will hit it to their opponent’s side of the court.  If the server successfully lands in the service box, each player will continue to hit it back-and-forth until one of them fails to return it, hits it out on-the-full and or hits it into the net.  If this occurs, their opponent wins the point.

If the ball is not successfully served (it doesn’t land in the correct service box or hits the net), the server will have a fault.  They will get to perform another serve.  If they fail again, they are at double fault and their opponent wins a point.

If you win four points in a row, you will win a game.  However, it’s important to note that tennis points are named in an unusual way:

  • Love— zero points
  • 15 — when a player has won their first point of the game.
  • 30 — when a player wins two points in a game
  • 40— when a player wins three points in a game
  • Deuce– when the score is 40-40 it is called Deuce (another word for a tie).  To win the game from deuce, one of the players must win two consecutive points.
  • Advantage– If you win one point after being at Deuce, you will have Advantage.  Win another point and you win the game.  If you lose the next point, it goes back to Deuce.

When saying or writing the score of a tennis game, you will always have the score of the player currently serving first.  Here are a few examples, of how points work:

  • If you are serving and have won a single point, the score would be 15-0 or 15 love.
  • If you are serving and have lost a single point, the score would be 0-15 or love 15.
  • If you are serving and lose 3 points in a row, the score would be 0-40 or love 40. If you lose one more point, you lose the game!
  • If you make a comeback and reach Deuce (40-40), then win another point — you will have Advantage. Win the next point and you win the game.  If you lose the next point, the score goes back to deuce.  Games can continue for a long time if either player cannot win two consecutive points after the score reaches deuce.

See: How to Keep Score in Tennis  |  How to Read Tennis Scores


At the end of the game, the person serving will change.  So, if you were serving that game, give the ball to your opponent so they can serve the next game.

If you managed to win the game, congratulations!  Now, you need to win the set.  A set consists of at least 6 games, with the first person to 6 games winning.  However, you must win by at least two games.  That means, if the score is 6-5, you still have to win another game to be two games in front (7-5).  If it is a close match, players might end up winning 8, 9, or 10 games before they claim the set.


The winner of the match is determined by the best of three or five sets.  If you are playing to three and win the first two sets, the game is over.  If you win one set each, you must play the third match to decide.

What is an Ace?

An ace occurs when you successfully land a serve inside the service box and the receiver is unable to hit the ball.

How many sets to win in tennis?

Most matches are decided by the best of three sets.  However, professional male tennis players participating in a grand slam tournament will usually play best of five sets.

How long does a tennis match last?

It really depends on how close the match is.  If every game is a tightly contested affair with points often going to deuce and extra games being played, it can go for many hours.

On average, a three-set match will last around 2 hours in total.  A longer five-set match averages around 3.5 hours, but some close games can last much longer.  In 2010, a match at the Wimbledon Championship between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut lasted for 11 hours and 5 minutes over the space of three days.

Why do tennis players bounce the ball before serving?

There are two reasons why most tennis players will bounce the tennis ball on the ground before the serve.  The first reason is pragmatic — the player is simply testing how “bouncy” the ball is before hitting it.  If the ball still contains a lot of air and is very bouncy, they change how hard they hit it when serving.

The other reason is that bouncing the ball a few times acts like a kind of ritual that helps the player get into “the zone”.  When they bounce the ball, they remember all of the other habits that they are meant to perform when serving, like throwing the ball a certain distance, moving their feet correctly, or adding spin to the ball.  These little rituals help a player hit their serve reliably and have it land in the service court.

What does “let” mean in tennis?

A “let” occurs when a player serves and the ball hits the top of the net but still manages to land in the service court.  When a let occurs, it is not considered a fault and the player serving gets to serve again.

What is a break in tennis?

A “break” is announced if a player receiving serve is ahead by between one to three points and only needs one more point to win the game.  For example, if you are receiving serve and the score is 30-40, you will “break” your opponents serve if you win the next point and take the game.

If a ball lands on the line is it out?

No!  If the ball lands on one of the singles sidelines or the baseline between the singles sidelines, it is considered in bounds.