What is a Tie Break in Tennis? Explained (Advantage, Types)

what is a tie break in tennis

Tennis is a game with no timeouts, and the point is to win 6 games before your opponent. However, if you’re tied at 6-6 in the final set, there must be a tie break to determine who wins the match.

It’s possible that if we do not know how to play tennis, the mention of “tie break” might sound like Chinese. But a lack of familiarity does not have to be an obstacle for us – because this article will teach you about what tie breaks are all about!

The fact that there has been a tie between two players means their match was even and now I’m going down with some more information on what these ties actually entail or rather can mean depending on where exactly the set score ended up being equal.

If your opponent is really tough, you don’t just give up – play out the match like you mean business, up to the tie break!

There is a lot of confusion about what a tiebreaker in tennis is. To help clear things up, we have put together this list of frequently asked questions to answer your queries and get you back on the court!

changing sides in a tie break

What is a tiebreak in tennis?

Ties are a natural part of tennis and often occur when there are two equal forces in a set. They can even happen as early as the very first set of the match.

There is no such thing as a “tie” in tennis. A mechanism called “tiebreaker” is to forcibly settle a match (set) in which the number of games won is up to “6-6” without giving up one step to each other.

It is often called a 12 point tiebreaker, or the best of 12 points tiebreaker. You can win by a margin of 2 points: 7-5, but when 6-6 it’s not the case, that’s why similarly to other scoring systems in tennis, a tie break is also called a ‘best of 12’.

In a professional tennis match, the winner is determined by who can win 2 sets in 3-set matches and 3 sets in 5-set matches. In order to take one set you have to get 6 games ahead of your opponent with at least two more games than them (6 – 4). However if both players are tied on 6 each then we go into “tie break” mode.

A tie-break is an extra game played in a tennis match when the score in a set is 6-6.

When this happens, it is important for players to know how a tie-break works because there will be no other chance if you cannot win two games.

The player who wins the tie break wins that particular set, and because of this, it has come to be understood as being “the highest meaning” for any given tournament or competition, that’s why I mentioned before that it signifies that there was tremendous back and forth during play.

A Grand Slam is played to the best of five sets. For example, when 6-6 point tie breakers are used in the first four sets, it is not used to determine a winner in the fifth set, which goes until a two game advantage is acquired.

With the fifth set, and a score of 6-6 occurring again in that case there would be no tie break. Instead it is necessary to win by two games difference between opponents.

How tie breaks work in grand slams?

A regular match, like in the French Open, should be played in this manner:

Player A (Winner)Player B (Loser)
First Set64
Second Set46
Third Set67
Fourth Set76
Fifth Set- you need to acquire a two game lead.97
+2 on the fifth set.Two game deficit in fifth set.

Here’s how to count points in a tie break in tennis. The same match with tie break regulations should look like this:

Player A (Loser)Player B (Winner)
First Set64
Second Set46
Third Set67
Fourth Set76
Fifth Set – Tiebreak07
Lost the tiebreak.Won the tie break, the set, and the match.

*Notice that, unlike the regular format, the loser (player B) has turned into a winner here. It can happen because tiebreaks are short and rely on a brief collection of points which can determine the match to one side or another. Unlike playing in games, which is a substantially more stable way to maintain composure.

What are the rules of a tiebreak in tennis?

  • The tie break is simple, whoever reaches 7 points first wins! 
  • The score in a tennis tiebreak differs from the normal game: 15-0, 30-15, and 40-30.
  • Sides are changed after every score multiple of 6 (so usually only one will be seen in the tie break and the most common case is when the scores are 4-2).
  • How does serving work in a tiebreak? The first serve is played from the deuce zone (right square), then the service of the second player alternates, starting with the advantage side.
  • After each change of sides, the server will serve from the deuce side. It can be understood by pure mathematical explanation- because of the even multiplicity of 6 while changing sides.
  • A tiebreak must be won by two points (similarly to how a regular set is won, only with entire games). In professional matches, there is no limit. This is when tennis matches get exciting.
  • The Wimbledon tournament, notorious for its strict rules on attire and behavior, does not enforce the tie-break rule in set five. You need to acquire a two-game lead in the fifth set in order to win, and it can go up to a 70-68 set as Isner and Mahut once did.
  • The final score of a tiebreak: When reading the score of a tie break, as with a regular set in tennis, 7-6 represents the total lead in games, while in parenthesis ‘()’ – you can know by which distance the tie break was won.

Examples of how a tie break won 7-5 will look on the scoreboard.

FedererNadal
76(5)

Tie breaks in doubles

Serving: In a doubles tie-break, the first point is played by the player whose turn it is to serve. The following two points are then served consecutively by players of opposing teams (starting with team A). After that, each member from Team A and B alternates serving for 2 consecutive points until reaching match end.

Let’s set players from team A: Bob(1) and Taylor(2). And players from team B: Max(3) and Roger(4).In that particular order. Here’s how the serving sequence in a doubles match in a tiebreak should look like.

1st pointBob serves.
2nd point – Serve changeMax serves
3rd pointMax serves
4th point – Serve changeTaylor serves
5th pointTaylor serves
6th point – Serve changeRoger serves
7th pointRoger serves
8th point – Serve changeNow bob serves again
9th pointBob serves
10th point and onThis sequence continues.

You can read more about doubles rules and scoring systems here.

Changing sides in a tie break

The tiebreaker change court is played when the total points of both pairs are multiples of two points, except for the first point played.

The next table should illustrate when do you change ends in tennis, when playing a tie break. It should look like that:

First pointStarting position
Sixth pointSide change
Points within
12th pointSide change
Points within
18th pointSide change
Points withinContinued play..

A break similar to the break players receive every two games in a casual set is set by multiples of 6 points in a tie break.

Examples:

ScoreCorrect/Incorrect
6-0Time for a break.
4-2Time for a break.
2-2No break.
6-6Time for a break.

The tiebreaker change court is played when the total points of the two pairs are multiples of 6.

The first change court is when the total points reach 6, that is, when the score is 6-0, 4-2. The second time is when the total points reach 12 and the third time when the total points reach 18.

It’s a break on the changing court, but you can’t sit on the bench and rest on the tiebreaker. Just drink a little while standing and the coat will change immediately.

After the changing court, it will start with the second serve of the server, and it will always be from the deuce side.

Tie break regulations in grand slams

Tennis is the sport where players battle it out for a set amount of time, but unlike most other sports they never stop playing because there are no stoppages in play. Grand slam matches usually take up to five hours and sometimes even longer if you’re lucky enough not to have any breaks from the action!

Tie break regulations differ in different tournaments on the ATP tour and at grand slams. 

For example, the Australian Open has a famous “Super Tiebreak” format that ends as soon as one player reaches 10 points.

French Open does not have any tie-breaker regulation whatsoever but you just play until there is sufficient 2 game advantage during the final set. 

Wimbledon only uses tie breaks for 12-12 games when 5th sets are reached due to an infamous Isner-Mahut incident while the US open doesn’t use anything more than a casual 7 point tie break if 6 games tie is reached(6-6). Meaning a final set tie break is conducted.

Fifth set tie break rules in grand slams.

Australian OpenSuper tiebreak up to 10 points in the fifth set.
French OpenNo tiebreak in the final set.
WimbledonTiebreak up to 7 points at 12-12.
US OpenTiebreak up to 7 points at 6-6.

Serving Rules In A Tiebreak

In tennis, the same player serves until one game ends. First, serve starts on the deuce side (right-hand court) and after just one serve moves to the advantage side (the left-hand court). The next serve is served from the right-hand court to the left side, then back and forth.

In the next game, the opponent will be the server, and the game will start with the service from the deuce side. In the same way, change the side for each point and hit.

In a tie break, however, the serving order is a little bit different. Since it is not played in the classical form of 0-15-30-40. There are quite a few rules to follow when serving in a tiebreaker in tennis:

  • The first player to serve in a tie break is the receiver of the last game that has been played before the tie break started.
  • The first serve is played from the deuce side.
  • The first player to serve in a tie break has only one point to serve, afterwards, he has to let his opponent serve the next two points.
  • After the first point, the serve alternates between two of the players with multiples of 2 points, meaning: every two points the serving player is changed. At the 4th point, player A will serve from the advantage side, and at the 5th point, player A will serve from the deuce side as well. This is repeated thereafter.
  • Similar to a classical playing mechanism, you firstly play from the deuce, then the ad side, and so forth.

For tiebreakers, this is a little different. This is a point that confuses people who are just starting to play tennis, so let’s hold it down! In the following, let’s consider an example assuming that the match between player A and player B was a tiebreaker.

Who serves after a tie break?

There is a very clear and simple outline for this issue:

You can think of a tiebreak just as any simple game in a normal set of tennis.

The player who served first in the set that escalated to a tie break would be the server in the next set. The server in the first point of the tie break would be the receiver in the following set.

Benefits of a tie break system

  • A tiebreaker is meant to give a fair challenge for both opponents when they are close in the match, whilst shortening the time of play.
  • From the perspective of tennis players’ physical strength and tournament management, many tournaments currently use tie-break systems. It is a way to save energy for athletes during long matches which can lead to fatigue, which can happen in earlier stages of a tournament and affect the performance of further rounds for a player.
  • The tennis tie break scoring system is endorsed more and more due to the 11:05 hour match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.
  • It is more interesting to watch than a regular game-to-game exchange.
  • The pressure boils down to few countable points that can determine the winner of the match, while some might argue that it may be unfair to win a match by a tie break, it can reveal which player has the upper side of the mental game.

What Is A Super Tiebreak?

For you to understand what it’s all about, suffices it to say that this new ATP rule has practically no difference from a normal tiebreak. You can also recognize it is sometimes called a 10 point tie break due to the fact that it is played in the best of 10 points method.

The Australian Open introduced a new tiebreaker rule in 2019. 

The tournament had previously been played to “6-6” before the introduction of the Super Tiebreaker, which was created due to weighting for sets that differ by 2 points or more instead of 7 points.

A super tiebreak or a 10 point tennis tiebreak is played just like a normal one, except for the fact that it is used in only one unique situation, as opposed to a normal tie break which is used as default to determine a winner in an equal set.

A super tie break can be seen in the best of three matches to determine the winner of the third set and the entire match, as well as the winners of a doubles match.

Why was the super tie break introduced?

Tennis technology has evolved just as much as the skills of the players who use it. New innovations in equipment such as rackets and shoes allow players to maximize their performance, while players themselves are also evolving through training by coaches and mental strengthening.

You can watch Roger Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Karlovic, and others as an example of how technology can help prolong the lifespan of a tennis player in our days. This phenomenon is observable in other sports of course (i.e. Lebron James etc)

In fact, in the first round of Wimbledon in 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut recorded the longest match in history. They fought 11 hours and 5 minutes for 3 days, with scores of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, and 70-68.

It puts a heavy burden on the players and affects the schedule of the tournament.

The system introduced  a new final set tie break system against this background which is the “super tiebreak.”

What is the longest tiebreak in tennis history?

PlayersResultTime and tournament
1.Aki Rahunen vs. Peter Nyborg24-221992 Copenhagen Open
2.Gary Lugassy vs.  Igor Zelenay22-202008 BH Telecom Indoors
3.Guillermo Olaso vs. Evgeny Karlovskiy22-202018 RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas

Famous tie breaks in tennis history

PlayersResultTime and tournament
1.Goran Ivanišević vs. Daniel Nestor20-181993 US Open
2.Björn Borg vs. Premjit Lall20-181973 Wimbledon
3.Novak Djokovic vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov 16-142011 US Open
4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs.  Andy Roddick20-182007 Australian Open
5.Roger Federer vs. Marat Safin20-182004 Masters Cup

7 Tips On How To Win A Tie Break In Tennis?

How do you win a tiebreak? It could be an art to deal with the pressure given to a player during such a short and packed ‘set’. Just like any other part in tennis, you can strategize yourself towards a tiebreak in order to maximize your chances to win.

  • Never give up. A tie-break is a very important and vital part of the game for both players. It’s not worth giving up, you will never know how close it really was!
    When you play in a tie-break, each point is important. You never know when your opponent will make an error and give up the lead to someone who’s been trying desperately for it! Never be passive with every shot; fight as hard as possible because the next point could be yours if you work just a little bit harder than before.
  • Don’t try new things on a tie break. The tie break is a difficult moment, but we must try to avoid complicated things. The only thing it does is get us out of the game since they normally fail and give our rivals confidence in knowing that something new has been tried while unhinging ourselves from what we have done during the match. You should do easy balls that are part of your regular playing style, not trying anything different or complex because it could lead to your defeat as well as confusion about whether this was an experiment leading up to future matches – which would be very bad!
  • Analyze the match prior to a tiebreak. To win a tie break, it’s important to have an understanding of what has happened during the match. Take some time after each game and look back on previous games analyzing key situations that helped us out in order to use them again throughout this next tiebreak.
  • Be focused. To win in tennis it is important to stay in your zone, but also make sure you’re always aware of what’s happening on the court. Actively looking for opportunities and when they come take them with force!
  • Act like each point is the last. The best way to approach a tie break is as if each point you play is your last. If we make it that far, the game will have been really close and at this juncture, every point’s importance should be emphasized in order not to waste any opportunities for victory. Consider as if each point is worth double its value.
  • Be aggressive on your serve. Because a tie break is a short playing mechanism, serving has to be exploited to its full potential. You need to serve well, accurately, and as hard, trying to win free points. It will put mental pressure on your opponent, as well as bringing you some relief in the form of easy points.
  • Try to do a few serves and volleys. Try to sneak to the net more than usual and finish points fast, putting pressure on the opponent and using smart serving strategies.

Final Thoughts

The tiebreak is a great way to end an intense tennis match. Whether it’s the deciding set in singles or doubles, there are several rules that need to be followed when playing this type of game. 

Tiebreaks can also be used as an additional game when there’s still a score difference of one or more games after four sets have been completed.

Grand slams use different rules for their tiebreaks due to how they’re structured but all other tournaments will follow these standards. Doubles matches also typically play out a normal tie break.

We’ve packed everything you need to know about how a tie break works and what makes it different from other games in order to play confidently! Just remember these 7 tips before your next big game so you can win any tiebreaks with ease.

If you have more questions after reading through our article, don’t hesitate to reach out–we’re happy to help answer any additional inquiries!

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