Fans tuning into the 2018 Wimbledon tournament have noticed just how long a tennis match can go. Like many of the other major tournaments, Wimbledon’s tiebreaker defaults to the advantage rules, which means players must win a set by two games. Essentially, Wimbledon’s tiebreaker is to not have a tiebreaker.
On the women’s side, the third and final set can go as long as needed for a player to win by two games. On the men’s side, the fifth set can extend for an unlimited amount of time until a player wins by two games. Sporting News details the advantage rules that functions as Wimbledon’s tiebreaker, and how it differs from a tighter tiebreaker format like the U.S. Open.
Basically, the final set must be won by two games. Example: 6-4. When a final set reaches 6-6, it continues until one player wins a game that puts him or her two games ahead. That could mean 8-6, 16-14 or 70-68…Tradition [the reason for the format]. The U.S. Open alone uses the tiebreaker primarily to accommodate scheduling and television. It has matches at night, so playing until 0-dark hundred isn’t an option. The U.S. Open put its tiebreaker rule in place in 1970. Between 1971 and 1982, 11 Aussie matches were decided by fifth-set tiebreakers. Then, Aussie went back to advantage set.
How long can a Wimbledon match last? Back in 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut set the record for longest Wimbledon match at 11 hours and 5 minutes. The final set lasted 138 games, which took 8 hours and 11 minutes to complete, per the Sporting News.
Wimbledon’s Scoring System Goes By Traditional Tennis Rules
Tiebreakers aside, the tennis scoring rules can be a bit cumbersome to fans who are new to the sport. Wimbledon, like most major tennis tournaments, operates by traditional rules. This means each set has six games, unless a tiebreaker is needed. Each game is scored by 15, 30, 40 and, finally, game point. Deuce means the two players are tied at 40, and advantage is the term given when a player gains a point at deuce. Time detailed the elaborate tennis scoring system.
For the unfamiliar, tennis starts with both players at zero, called love: “Love-all.” One person scores: 15 to love. The server’s score is said first, the receiver’s second. The other now scores, and they’re tied at “15-all.” The next point is 30, then 40, and the following point wins that game. If they tie at 40 it’s called a deuce. From that tie the next person to get a point has the advantage, but generally has to win by two points — that is, to score twice in a row — to win the game. And it doesn’t stop there. Six of these games make a set, and the set must be won by two games or it goes to a tiebreaker. After the set is over, it repeats. To win the whole match requires either winning best of five sets or best of three sets, depending on the competition.
Ladies matches have three sets, while there are five sets on the men’s side. There is a great debate as to whether Wimbledon should adopt a more stringent tiebreaker system that would curtail some of the lengthier matches. Roger Federer explained to ESPN how the long matches can impact the quality of play.
“It is very cool if it goes 12-all, 14-all, 18-all, 20-all,” Federer told ESPN. “It goes further and further. [But] the chances get slimmer and slimmer to win that next round. They can make a compromise and make a tiebreaker at 12-all. Play another six service games each.”
There is also a variation of tiebreakers after the third set if a match is 6-6 as Sporting News explains.
Here is how TennisTips.org describes it:
The ‘7 Point Tiebreak’ game is the final game after twelve games have been played and the game score is tied (6-6) for the set. In tennis, this is the only time a tennis competitor closes out a set by winning with a one game advantage resulting in tennis game score of 7-6 or 6-7.
Also called the 12 point tiebreak, the first player to win seven points and hold at least a two-point advantage wins the tiebreaker. Thus, the tiebreaker could go on to, say, 12-10 before the set is decided.
We saw this invoked in the 2018 final between Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson. The third set was tied 6-6, and Djokovic won based on the “seven point” tiebreaker.