Although it seems like one of the most basic things to know about playing a tennis match, I'm surprised at the number of tennis players who don't know how to play a tiebreak game.
This past weekend, I played a just-for-fun tiebreaker at the end of my cardio tennis class. Playing a tiebreaker like this is great tennis practice as it gets you playing live points and works all aspects of your game – serving, receiving, using all of your strokes, applying some strategy. Anyway, we were playing doubles so there were four of us on court and, of the four, three players were not sure how to play a tiebreaker. In fact, my opponents somehow had it in their heads that their receiving positions should change during the tiebreaker.
I know that sounds confusing because I myself couldn't figure out exactly what was going on. I just know that at one point, I served to one opponent in the deuce court and the next time I served she was playing the ad court. Since it was just a practice, I didn't make anything of it but at the end of the tiebreaker, I mentioned it and both opponents thought their receiving position had something to do with which one of them had just served.
You Need To Know How To Play Tiebreaks
My point is that these ladies, all of whom play on league tennis teams, really had no idea how to play a tiebreak game. And while this sounds like a pretty elementary topic for this podcast, I want to make sure we all know the rules here and give you some easy ways to remember just how to play and score your next tiebreaker. If for some reason you think this is a topic that you really know everything about so you're going to skip this particular episode, you are certainly free to do so. But, just FYI, I'm not going to talk about the obvious tiebreak rules that everyone knows. Instead, what I'm going to do is talk about the most confusing aspects of tiebreakers, the things people usually don't know or get wrong. And I'm going to give you my best tips to clear up the confusion so you know how to properly play a tiebreak game. By the end of this episode, you should pretty much be a know-it-all on how to play tiebreaks.
The Rules On Tiebreak Games
So, to start with, let's make clear – what we're talking about are regular old tiebreak games. This is the kind that you play at the end of a set where the score is tied at 6-6 that is played to determine who wins the set. The rules for this type of tiebreak game can be found throughout the ITF Rules of Tennis, but mainly in Rules 5 and 10. Rule 5 addresses the “Score in a Game” and Rule 10 talks about “Change of Ends.” I'm not going to quote these rules to you, however. And I'm not going to tell you the obvious things that I think everyone knows. So even the ladies from my cardio tennis class ken that the winner of a regular tiebreak game is the first to get to seven points and you have to win by a margin of two points. And also that this kind of game is scored by calling out regular numbers, like “0-0” or “2-3” instead of “Love-Love” or “30-40.” Instead, let's talk about the confusion. I think the best way to do this, so that you really understand the tiebreak game, is to go in the order that things come up in a tiebreak. So let's start at the beginning.
Before The Tiebreak Starts
Before the tiebreak game starts, these are the important points to remember:
- The tiebreak game counts as the 13th game of the set. The one the tennis rules don't explicitly say but that makes the whole tiebreak thing so much easier to understand is that the tiebreak game counts as an actual game in the set. When the score is tied 6-6, the tiebreak game is the 13th game of the set because at the end of that game, someone will have won the set 7-6. Now, while that may be obvious to you, some people just don't realize this. So even though we have these special rules for how to play the tiebreak game, just remember that the tiebreak is not a game that stands along separate from the set. It is the 13th game of the set.
- You start the tiebreak game from where you are. You do not change ends of court at the start of a tiebreak game. At this point, the set is tied 6-6 and, since that adds up to an even number, you are going to stay on the side where you are to begin the tiebreak.
- The player whose turn it is to serve next in the set serves the first point of the tiebreak game. This seems to be confusing to some people but all you have to remember is that the tiebreak game is just the next game in the set. It's the 13th game. So the server of the tiebreak game is the next person whose turn it is to serve in the set.
During The Tiebreak
During your tiebreak game, here's what you need to remember:
- The order of service remains the same. Occasionally people try to change the order of service in a tiebreak game. But, as I've already said, the tiebreak game is the 13th game of the set. So the order of service stays the same and whoever is up for the next service becomes the first server in the tiebreak game.
- The first server serves for just one point. People get confused about this because, at first, it just seems unfair. But what you have to realize is that the rules of tennis go way out of their way to be fair, even when you and I don't initially see it. So here's how to remember that the first server gets to serve for just the one point. Supposedly, getting to serve is an advantage, right? So to even out that advantage, the first server will only get one point. If the first server got a chance at winning two points and won them, and everyone who served after that won both of their points, the first server would win the tiebreaker even though everyone had won their serve. You can play that out in your head if you want. I have. But just believe me, if the first server gets a chance at two points, he or she has an unfair advantage. So to keep it fair, the first server gets to serve for just one point.
- The first server serves one point from the deuce court. This is stated in Rule 17 on “Serving.”
- Each subsequent server serves for two points with their first serve being from the ad court. After the first point, the serve passes to the first server's opponent and each player then gets to serve for two points for the remainder of the tiebreak. The first of these subsequent serves starts from the ad court and the second point starts from the deuce court. People are always confused about starting their serve from the ad court. Why is this? Why do the subsequent servers start from the ad court? Well, it's because when they start their serve, the score is odd and you always serve from the ad court when the serve is odd. So when the second person serves at the very beginning of the tiebreak game, the score is either 1-0 or 0-1. That's an odd score so you serve from the ad court. Here's another way to remember this – it's a tiebreak game and everything is weird including where you serve from.
- Players change ends of court after every six points. This is often where people get really confused about the tiebreaker. And I think the reason is because, if you change ends of court after the sixth point, the twelfth point, etc., you will be changing in the middle of someone's serve and that seems a little strange. In other words, the server who serves the 6th point in the game will also be serving the 7th point in the game, but will change ends of court between those serves. Just remember – the rules are always trying to avoid giving anyone an unfair advantage. By changing ends of court in the middle of someone's, there is less chance that one player or team will have an advantage due to the weather since one side may be more sunny than the other or one side may have to fight a head wind more than the other.
After The Tiebreak
Once the tiebreak ends, here's what is most important for you to know:
- The tiebreak game counts as the 13th game of the set. I know I've already said this but it is very important to remember it once the tiebreak game is over because it usually determines what happens next.
- Players change ends of court at the end of the tiebreak. Because the tiebreak game is the 13th game, players change ends of court just like they do after every odd game. And they change from the position they are at when the tiebreak ends, not from the position they were at when the tiebreak started.
- The tiebreak game is considered a service game for the first server. Even though the first server gets just one serve, this tiebreak game is deemed to be this server's service game. This is important if you have to play another set after the tiebreak game.
- The player or team that served first in the tiebreak game will receive first in the next set. Because the tiebreak game counts as the first server's service game, the first server or his team become the receivers in the next game that is played.
Remember – This Is Just A Regular Old Tiebreak Game
The last thing I want to point out is that everything I've just told you applies to what I usually call a regular old tiebreak game. It's also called a 7 point tiebreak because the winner is usually the first one to 7 points. I'm not talking Coman tiebreakers and I'm not talking 3rd set tiebreakers or 10-point tiebreakers or any other kind of tiebreaker that you may have heard of. I think those are all great topics for a future podcast episode so I'm going to leave any special rules or twists regarding those types of tiebreakers out of this podcast.
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