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How to Play a Tiebreaker in Tennis

Updated on August 23, 2012

It happens all of the time. Maybe you started out slow and worked hard to catch up. Perhaps you just weren't able to break your opponent's serve. Whatever the reason, all tennis players eventually end up playing a tie break. More often than not, I see players at the club level panic in a tie break. They begin to feel unsure of themselves, not knowing where to stand or from where to serve. Sometimes, it's just the weight of knowing that every point counts in a tie break that causes players to stress. When confidence decreases, a player's level of play decreases and it's a sure victory for the opponent. There is no need to panic. With a firm handle on the rules of a tie break and the right mental adjustment, you can begin to see it as an opportunity rather than a problem.

Give yourself a tennis pep talk.

Getting yourself into the right frame of mind before a tennis tie break is essential. Don't think about the risks, think about your successes. If you have easily held serve and have been into most of your opponent's service games, you have a distinct advantage in a tie break. Now, every point you earn on your opponent's serve counts. You also need to remind yourself what you must do rather than focus on what you should avoid doing. A positive and calm state of mind will definitely help to elevate your game.


Singles Tennis Tie Break.

  1. Points. There are many types of tie breakers but two are most generally used at the club or USTA league level. If you are playing to win the set, the first player to seven points will be the winner. Often, to save time, a match tie break will be played in lieu of the third set. In that case, the first player to ten points will be the victor. In order to win, you must win by two points. If that takes you past the seven or ten points then so be it. At the 2007 Australian Open, American Andy Roddick and France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached a score of 20-18 before Tsonga earned the victory.
  2. First serve. The first serve of the tie break, for the set, goes to whoever received serve last. That player will be referred to as Player 1. Player 1 will serve one point in the "deuce" court--the side of the court that is on the server's right.
  3. Second, third, and subsequent serves. The next two serves will be done by the opponent, Player 2. Player 2 will serve from the "ad", or, left side of the court first and then from the "deuce" side. The next two serves will then be served by Player 1. Play will continue until one player has reached seven or ten points and is ahead by at least two points.
  4. Change of ends. When the score adds up to a total of 6 points, players must change ends. The score can be 6-0, 4-2, 3-3 or any other variation that adds up to six. You have 90 seconds to grab a drink, towel off, and position yourself on the court. If a server has only served one of their points, they will serve the remaining point from the other side after the change of ends.


Tie breaks in doubles tennis

The method for tie breaks in doubles is the same as in singles except for the order of serve. If the tie break is for the set, the first server is whoever would have served in the next game and the order will follow the regular serving order already established during the set. If the tie break is for the match, doubles teams are free to change the serving order as it is considered to be a new set.

  1. First serve. Player 1 from team A serves one serve from the "deuce" court.
  2. Second and third serve. Player 1 from team B serves one serve from the "ad" court and then one from the "deuce" court.
  3. Fourth and fifth. Player 2 from team A serves once from the "ad" court and then once from the "deuce" side.
  4. Sixth and seventh. Player 2 from team B serves from the "ad" and then "deuce" court.
  5. Consecutive points. The play continues until a team is ahead by at least two and has reached seven or ten points.

Coman tie break

An alternative tie break is the Coman. This method is gaining favor because it allows players in doubles to maintain the serving side used throughout the set. The Coman procedure is the same as a regular tie break except for the changing of ends.

  1. First point is served then change ends.
  2. From then on, change ends every 4 points--5th, 9th, 13th, 17th and so on.

Many people prefer this method because it is fairer. It more evenly distributes the elements such as sun and wind. Also, in doubles, the players will always serve at the same end of the court rather than changing ends. It must be announced in advance, however, if a Coman tie break is to be used.

You can do well in tie breaks if you are in the right frame of mind and feel comfortable with the rules. If you are unfamiliar with this or any other rule in tennis, visit the USTA (United States Tennis Association) website.

┬ęDenise Mai, August 21, 2012. All rights reserved.

Follow me on twitter! @denise_mai


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    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 5 years ago

      My husband was a high school tennis coach for seven years. I had him read this and he gave it his seal of approval! ^_^ Voted up and useful!