How to Play a Tennis Tiebreaker

by Siraj

Invented by Van Alen in 1965, and introduced to the US Open in 1970, the tie-breaker has helped to reduce what had sometimes resulted in monumental and lengthy tennis game struggles between top players that could take days to finish.

A tennis tie-breaker is an intense, and often used, game in a set. It is used when the players are tied at 6-6 in a set, to determine the winner of the set. Whether you're learning to play tennis, or you're a spectator, it is important to understand the rules behind this exciting part of the game.



Understand when a tie-breaker game will take place. A "set" is a series of games in tennis and a player must win six games to win the set.

  • A tie-breaker is played when each player has reached six games each. It is used to determine the winner of that set. If both players have 5 games all, two consecutive games are needed to win the set. Where it is six games all, a tie-breaker is needed to decide the set.

  • A tie-breaker might need to be used in all sets throughout the entire match if the players are in peak form. In this instance, it is likely that the match is very exciting for spectators and can be both tiring and mentally trying for the players. A lot of double faults will occur as the mind games accompany the real play!


Learn the scoring for a tie-break game.

  • The points in a tie-breaker as scored: zero, one, two, three, etc. This is a change from the usual scoring of 15, 30, 40, etc.

  • The first player to win seven points, provided that there is a margin of two points over their opponent, wins the game and set.


Play a tie-break game. The player whose turn it is to serve (who was receiving the serve in the prior game) will serve the first point of the tie-breaker from the deuce (right) court side. The first point is only a single serve. The next player and all following players (if doubles) will serve from the ad (left) court on the first serve and the deuce court on the second serve.

  • If playing doubles, continue the ordinary service rotation as in a regular doubles game.

  • Once the initial serve has been served, the opponent serves the next two points, and all remaining serves are rotated, two points each time, until the end of the game.

  • Players change ends after every six game points (e.g. 4-2), or any multiple of six points. If the set score is 7–6 (e.g., seven games to six games), players change ends because the tie-break counts as one game. Unlike after other changes of end during the match, a change of end during a tie-breaker does not allow for any break – play must be continuous unless there is an injury.

  • The first player to reach seven points wins the tie-breaker, provided the win is made by 2 points. For example, a 7–6 does not win the game, whereas an 8–6 does. Regardless of how many points are needed, however, the winner of the tie-breaker will be recorded as having won the set 7–6.


Win the tie-breaker. Whether you're playing or observing, this is the crucial part! If you're observing, try to see if you can spot what each player is thinking or reacting to in advance of each shot played, based on the advice for players following. If you're playing, there are some key things to keep in mind to help your game:

  • Aim to grab an early lead by getting your first serve in and following through on each serve successfully. Double faulting can really turn the tables for you mentally; do your best to avoid this common error brought about by losing your concentration.

  • Be confident and consistent. Having a consistent serve is a key to winning a tie-breaker; that, and having a very focused mental attitude aimed at confidently winning the game because the tie-breaker is a real match for your mind too. It is recommended that you rely on your most successful playing strategies and keep with them at this stage in the game.

  • If you do have a "secret" strategy in mind, be sure you're extremely skilled and know one hundred percent what you're doing!

  • It can help you to try and figure out how your opponent will react to the tie-breaker situation. Is there a past record to draw on? Does your opponent appear calm or flustered? If you're a good player and a good reader of the situation, you might be able to force pressure into the play that wears down your opponent.

  • Check out WikiHow's article on How to practice Zen tennis for some further tips on improving the mental attitude side of tennis.


  • Only the US Open employs a final set tie-breaker out of all the Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open being the Grand Slam tournaments).
  • A match is normally the best of three sets, meaning that the player to succeed in two sets, wins the match. However, in some events, such as the men's singles in Grand Slams, the match consists of five sets, with the winner being the one to gain three sets first.
  • Some games play the final set as an "advantage set" rather than as a tie-breaker. This means that the player must win six games in all, as well as have a margin of two games over his or her opponent. This can mean that play will continue until one player has this two game advantage, for example, eight games to six.