Tennis Tie Break: How It Works and Rules
Tennis is a sport many have come to love. But just like other sports, it involves a lot of stages and rules, one of which is a tie break.
A tie break is an important part of the sport, as there are times when players reach an impasse. At such times, there should be a decider to break it.
In this article, you will learn what a tie break in tennis is, how it works in games, and its rules.
Table of Contents
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What Is a Tennis Tie Break and How Does It Work?
A tie break is a decider used in tennis when the scoreline in a game set gets to 6-6. The score is a tie, so the players involved will play to break it. The player who first gets to 7 points, winning by 2, wins the set.
This is how it works:
Let’s say the scoreline in a game set is 6-6. To win the set, you have to win by two points clear of your opponent’s score.
So, if you score 7 points and your opponent is at 6, the game does not end just because you’ve hit 7 points. You will keep playing until there is a 2-point gap between your score and your opponent’s.
A tie break scoreline can go as high as 15-13. It can also remain at the minimum – 7-5.
The player who makes the first serve in a tie break is the one who received in the game that brought the score to 6-6.
This means that the server in the game that brought the scoreline to 6-6 automatically becomes the receiver in the first serve of the tie break.
There is not much difference between a singles game and a doubles game when it comes to a tennis tie break rules. The only one you will find is when it comes to the serve.
Rules of Tennis Tie Break
The rules of a tie break in tennis are practically the same in a singles game and a doubles game. But in service, there are differences.
How Do Serves Work in a Tie Break for a Singles Game?
The player who does the first serve gets to serve for only that first point. After that initial serve, each player must serve twice before the opponent serves twice.
The serves will come from both the ad side of the court and the deuce side. That is, the players will alternate and serve from both sides of the court. They don’t remain on one side throughout the game to break the tie.
To break it down in simpler terms:
- Player A, who served first to start the tie break, serves on the deuce side. This means that Player B automatically receives on the ad side of the court.
- The second serve will come from Player B, who is on the ad side.
- The third serve will come from Player B still, but now from the deuce side. This means that after the first two serves, the players switch sides. So, Player A receives from the ad side.
- The fourth serve will come from Player A, who is on the ad side.
- The fifth serve will come from Player A still, but now from the deuce side. Remember, the players switch sides after two serves. So, Player B goes back to the ad side.
The players will keep switching sides as long as the game continues. It will end when one of them wins by 2 points.
Note: The court’s left side is the ad side, while the right side is the deuce side.
When Do Players Change Sides in a Tie Break?
Players remain on their sides of the net at the start of a tie break, at least until they complete the first six points.
But when they reach the points, they can change sides.
If the game does not end after the next six points, the players will switch sides again. They will keep doing this until one of them wins to end the tie break.
If another game set is left to be played at the end of the set, the players must switch sides to complete the set.
So if you are Player B and you ended the tie break playing on the left side, you must go to the right side to play the next one.
Recording Scores in a Tie Break
A tie break is usually scored as 7-6. This is the official score noted in the books. It doesn’t matter if the actual scoreline is 15-13; tie breaks are noted as 7-6.
This video explains the rules of a tie break in a singles match…
How Do Serves Work in a Tie Break for a Doubles Game?
Much like in a tie break for a singles game, the side that served to bring the score to 6-6 receives at the start of the tie break. Therefore, the receiving side in the game that brought the tie serves first.
And the side that serves to start the tie break serves only once. After that, the other side serves twice before the first side serves again.
The difference here is the number of people playing and who serves. There are usually four players in a doubles game, two on each time and on opposite sides of the net.
For the team that serves first, the player who makes the first serve doesn’t serve for the last game.
So if Team A has players 1 and 2, and Player 1 served to end the game that brought them into the tie break, Player 2 gets the serve for the start of the tie break.
And if Team B gets the first serve, the same rule applies.
Let’s break down the game preceding the tie break for you. This way, you will understand which team gets the first serve. And in that team, which player gets to serve.
Player 1 from Team A serves to start the set preceding the tie break, on the deuce side. This side is usually where the serves start for the tie break.
Anyone on the opposing team can receive.
- Player 1 from Team B will take the second serve on the ad side.
- Player 2 from Team A will take the third serve on the deuce side.
- Player 2 from Team B will take the fourth serve from the ad side.
- Player 1 from Team A will take the fifth serve on the deuce side.
- Player 1 from Team B will take the sixth serve on the ad side.
This will continue in this manner until there is a tie. Then, the tie break will start.
If you follow this pattern to get a 6-6 scoreline, it means that Player 2 from Team B will take the last serve to tie the game.
Therefore, Team A will take the first serve in the tie break and Player 1 in the team will serve.
To make things easier for you to understand, follow this pattern:
- First serve – Player 1 Team A takes it
- Second serve – Player 1 Team B takes it
- Third serve – Player 1 Team B takes it
- Fourth serve – Player 2 Team A takes it
- Fifth serve – Player 2 Team A takes it
- Sixth serve – Player 2 Team B takes it
At this point, the teams switch sides on the court. This is because they have hit six points.
- Seventh serve – Player 2 Team B takes it
- Eight serve – Player 1 Team A takes it
- Ninth serve – Player 1 Team A takes it
- Tenth serve – Player 1 Team B takes it
- Eleventh serve – Player 1 Team B takes it
- Twelfth serve – Player 2 Team A takes it
Again, the teams switch sides because they have reached another six points.
The pattern will continue until there is a winning team in the tie break. The winning team must be 2 points ahead of their opponent, and the scoreline is recorded the same way as with the singles.
It is a bit much to grasp at just a glance, especially if you are new to the tennis world. But you will get the hang of it with time. It is not so difficult.
Who Makes the First Serve in the Set after the Tie Break?
To determine who makes the first serve in the set that succeeds the tie break, you have to know who served and received in the game that started the tie break.
In a singles game, the player who received at the start of the tie break serves. And the player who served at the start receives.
The same rule applies to the teams in a doubles game. The team that received in the first tie break game will serve.
However, for the doubles, any of the players in the pair who is to serve can make the serve. There is no rule saying it must be one player over the other. The same applies to the second game when it is the turn of the second team to serve.
But from the third game, service will go to the two players who are yet to serve. So when one serves for the third game from the first team, the other will serve for the fourth game from the second team.
The pattern will continue until the game set ends or there is a tie break.
This video demonstrates where to stand, when to switch, and how to keep score in a tie break…
Why Are Tie Breaks Played Beyond 7 Points?
Tie breaks are usually played to the 7-point mark, especially in a singles tournament. But in a doubles tournament, this is not the case. It can reach 10 points.
The reason for the is because of how people view doubles matches. They are not seen as important as singles matches. So to save time, when the score in a set reaches 1-1, the teams play a 10-point tie break. Here, the same rules and serve pattern applies.
However, this does not happen in all doubles matches. If the tournament is huge, like an ATP or a Davis Cup final, the teams play to the final set.
Major Tournaments: How They Handle Tie Breaks
Different major tournaments in the tennis world have different ways of handling tie breaks. Let us look at some of them in the Grand Slam category:
To win the tie break in Wimbledon, you must win the last set that decides the winner by at least two games.
There are no longer marathon matches in Wimbledon. If there is a tie between players at 12 games, the players commence a tie break round. This is a new rule which Wimbledon instituted back in 2019.
There are no tie breaks in the French Open. It happens to be the only Grand Slam that decides the final set winner in a singles match without a tie break.
In its stead, the Grand Slam uses an advantage set. This is where players or teams must play the deciding set until one wins two games more than their opponent has won.
Sometimes, this takes too long, longer than a tie break, a good example being the advantage set between Nicholas Mahut and John Isner in the 1st round match of 2010 Wimbledon. The deciding set alone lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes.
In this Grand Slam, when the scoreline is 6-6 in the last set of a singles match, there is tie break. Any of the two players to get to 10 points first wins the tie break.
However, a tie break is played in the place of a final set in a mixed doubles match.
The 12 points tie break is used here when the final set in a game hits 6-6. If it is a mixed doubles match, a tie break is played in the place of a final set in a mixed doubles match.
Quick Tips to Win a Singles Tie Break Set
The following are some of the tricks you can employ to win a tie break set in a singles match:
- Get ahead on time by scoring 2 points as quickly as you can. Do this within the first 3 points. It helps ease pressure and give you a certain confidence. If you get a mini break, that is winning a point off your opponent’s serve; winning becomes easier. All you have to do is to just hold the serve.
- However, if you are not able to get ahead quickly, don’t despair. You are playing a tie break so that means one thing: you are a good player. But if you let the fact that you are not ahead get to you, you lose quicker. So, keep fighting.
- Remember that the tie break isn’t much different from the usual game. What makes it so different is that you switch sides after serving twice. And the game will end once a player gets ahead by 2 points. Otherwise, everything is the same. Therefore, play with your usual strength and techniques.
- Remaining confident usually does the trick and wins the game for you. This is because your opponent maybe even more nervous than you are. And nervousness can cause errors. If you remember this, you are more likely to play confidently.
- When switching sides on the court, take a little break to replenish strength. Don’t be in a hurry to get back into the play. This is especially necessary if you are losing. Don’t give off any negative vibe, but remain positive. Even if your opponent has to wait, let them.
- If in the end you lose, find out what you missed and how you can be better next time. Don’t let the loss weigh you down. Rather, take it as a learning curve.
Quick Tips to Win a Doubles Tie Break Set
The following are tips to win a tie break set in a doubles match:
- Remain in sync with your teammate; never try to go solo or showcase your skills without involving your teammate. It is a recipe for disaster. You are a double encourage each other, no matter what the game looks like.
- Pick the weak link on the team you are facing. If you can, work on them. You are more likely to score points when you hit the ball their way.
- Getting the first serve right is important. A good serve is not as important in a singles game as it is in a doubles game. So don’t go serving wide and big on your first serve. Get the ball in.
- Then, when you are up by 3 points or more, you can go big on your serves. You improve your team’s winning chances this way.
To wrap things up, remember that a tie break is an important part of tennis. There is only a little difference between the rules for a singles match and those for a doubles match.
The rules may seem too much to grasp right now, but don’t sweat it, especially if you are new.
Playing regularly will get you familiar with what tie breaks entail. Even more so, playing with an advanced player makes the journey easier. You are more likely to learn faster this way.
Nevertheless, we hope you have learned a thing or two from this guide. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us.
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Review by Marc Peppin – Won 40+ International Titles – Canadian #1