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Tennis Tie-breaks Made Easy

Whether you’re new to the game of tennis or a seasoned veteran, if you haven’t played a tiebreak recently, chances are that you need a refresher on scoring and procedures. If you’ve only played the regular 7-point set tiebreak, we’ll also introduce you to the 10-point match tiebreak and the Coman Tiebreak Procedure. While we will explain the ins and outs of tiebreaks, the real gem is our handy cheat sheet, which is available for download at the end of this blog post.


Either method of scoring may be used provided that the one to be used is announced in advance of the event. If the “Tie-break Set” method is to be used, it must also be announced whether the final set will be played as a “Tie-break Set” or an “Advantage Set.”

 

Woman ready to serve with score board in foreground

Source: Adobe

7-point Set Tiebreak

If you have chosen to play a tie-break set (vs. advantage set), once you and your opponent(s) reach a score of 6-6 in a set, you will play a 7-point set tiebreak. The scoring system for a tiebreak is completely different from that of a typical game. In a tiebreak, instead of keeping score by “15,” “30,” “40,” etc., points are awarded by “1,” “2,” “3,” etc. In order to win the tiebreak, the first player or team to win 7 points by at least 2 points wins the set 7-6.


In terms of the order of play, the player who would have started serving the next game will start serving in the tiebreak. That player only serves the first point. The following two points will be served by the opposing player or team. If it is a doubles game, the serving order should remain the same as it had throughout the rest of the set. After the opponent serves two serves, each player/team serves for two points until the tiebreak ends with a winner who has reached 7 points by a margin of 2. Because the first player to serve only serves one serve, every subsequent server will start serving from the ad court instead of the deuce court. 

10-point Match Tiebreak

If a tournament chooses to employ the 10-point match tiebreak in the place of a final deciding set, the designation must be made clear on the entry form. The procedure of the 10-point match tiebreak is the same as in the 7-point set tiebreak, but the winning player or team must reach 10 points by a margin of at least 2 points to win the final set 1-0 and therefore the match. 

Woman holding tennis ball next to tennis racquet
Source: Shutterstock

Serving Order

Although we previously stated that in doubles, the rotation of service within each team must continue in the same order throughout the set tiebreak as during that set, according to USTA rules, a doubles team may switch its serving order at the beginning of a match tiebreak, as it can at the beginning of any new set. After the tiebreak, the player or team who served first in the tiebreak will receive first in the first game of the following set.

Changing Ends

In a tiebreak, players change ends after every six points and at the end of the tiebreak. Because a tiebreak moves quickly, there are no water breaks during changeovers. 


If a tournament decides to use the Coman Tiebreak Procedure rather than the regular procedure, the election must be announced before the start of tournament play. The Coman procedure may be used with any set or match tiebreak. The only difference between the Coman tiebreak and a regular tiebreak is that players change ends after the first point, after every four points following the first point, and at the end of the tiebreak. 


Why would a tournament opt to use the Coman Tiebreak? There are two main benefits of the Coman Tiebreak. First of all, it allows servers to serve from the same side, thus ensuring that the tiebreak serving conditions are the same as those of the set. Furthermore, with the more frequent changing of sides, court conditions (e.g., sun, shadows, lights, wind, etc.) will affect both players/teams more evenly. 

Tennis ball about to bounce on the baseline
Source: Adobe

Ball Changes

If you are playing in a tournament that has regular ball change procedures, and you would have changed balls if you were going to start a new game, but you are instead playing a tiebreak, the ball change will occur after the tiebreak at the start of the second game of the next set. A tiebreak counts as one game when keeping track of games for ball changes. If you are playing a 10-point match tiebreak instead of a final set, there will be no more ball changes in the match. 

Conclusion

Tiebreaks can be nerve-racking because there is so much riding on just a few points, but hopefully, your familiarity with the procedures will take away some of the anxiety. The key to winning tiebreaks is to start strong so you can jump out to an early lead, and keep serve. Also, make sure that both you and your opponent(s) keep track of the score carefully! In case a mistake does occur, stay tuned for our future article about scoring mishaps!

Download the cheat sheet

Tennis tie break cheat sheet

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