How Many Sets in Tennis? (Understanding the Basics)

By Lin
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In this article, we will discuss how many sets in tennis matches, and when those rules sometimes differ.

If you are new to tennis, trying to understand the scoring system can feel complex.

However, once you understand how points, games, and sets are calculated, you will quickly realize that the scoring system is relatively simple and easy to follow.

Here, we will discuss the following:

  • How many sets constitute a match in tennis
  • The differences between the men’s, women’s, and doubles game
  • Other essential information about how sets work in tennis.

What is a Set in a Tennis Match?

First and foremost, let’s quickly touch on what constitutes a set in a tennis match. A set is a culmination of games played. When a player reaches six games before their opponent, they win the set, which resets the game count to zero games each and starts the next set.

How many sets you need to win varies depending on the competition, but typically it is either three or five on the men’s side of the draw and three on the women’s side.

Men’s Tennis vs Women’s Tennis: The Differences in Sets Played

In most professional tennis matches, both men and women play a best-of-three-sets format, whereby a player wins the match once they have won two sets.

If a player wins two sets in a row, the match ends after the second set, as the opponent can no longer win the game.

Things change slightly when it comes to grand slam tennis. Women still play best of three matches, but men play best of five sets of matches.

The idea behind this is that men are more athletic and able to manage the additional time on the court, although there is a growing argument that women’s professional tennis could now also handle the rigors of five-match tennis too.

Five-set matches are played exclusively at grand slams to add additional excitement, intrigue, and entertainment for the audience. It also helps highlight the gravitas of the grand slams and further identifies them as the most prominent events on the tennis calendar.

How do you Decide Who Serves the First Set?

While you might simply decide based on who has the balls in their hand at your local court, or the classic “youngest first” style, things are a little more standardized in professional tennis.

When determining who serves first for grand slam matches or tour events, players flip a coin. Whichever player wins the toss gets to choose whether they serve or return first.

Many professional tennis players opt to serve first, but if you are less confident in your service skills or you are feeling nervous, you may choose to return first.

Grand Slam Sets

During a grand slam tournament, the rules for men’s tennis differ slightly from all other ATP and WTA events. In qualifying matches, the rules are the same, where each player must win two out of three sets to win and advance to the main draw.

However, at Wimbledon, the final of the qualifying round is played as a best of five, where players must win three sets to advance to the main draw.

While that might seem strange to tennis beginners, it is with good reason, as all grand slam competitions are best of five sets. Therefore, it makes sense that the final for the qualifying event is played in this format.

The additional sets only apply on the men’s side of the draw, as women compete in a best of three at all four major tournaments.

So why is it that grand slams offer slightly different rules than all the other tennis tournaments on the tour?

Well, in simple terms, the grand slams are the four biggest and grandest tennis events on the calendar. They are the most watched, the most prestigious, and the most profitable, so it makes sense that they have additional sets to help build the suspense and intrigue.

On top of that, grand slams are also not organized by the WTA or the ATP. Instead, the International Tennis Federation handle these events, which gives them more wiggle room to create their own unique rules and regulations.

But the amount of sets at a grand slam is not the only difference. How sets are scored also differs, depending on which grand slam you are playing at.

For example, the Australian and US Open require players to play a tiebreak game if the set reaches six games a piece.

However, the rules change if you are playing at Wimbledon, where a tiebreak game only occurs if the set is tied at 12 games each.

And, to make matters even more complicated, the rules differ at the French Open, too.

In the fifth set at Roland Garros, there is no tiebreak game if the scores are level in the final set. Instead, the players battle it out until one has a two-game winning margin.

As you can imagine, this rule has led to some incredibly long tennis matches. The current record is held by Arnaud Clément and Fabrice Santoro, where Santoro won the encounter after 6 hours and 33 minutes of grueling action.

How to Score a Tiebreak Game

A tiebreak occurs at the end of a set if the score sits at six games. If nothing separates the two players after those 12 games, they play a special tiebreaker, where the first person to reach seven points wins the set.

However, the tiebreak must be won by two clear points, so the game could go further than seven points.

In a tiebreak game, service is swapped every two points after the first, meaning it changes hands on the 1st, 3rd, 5th points, and so on.

Serving After a Tie Break

Once a tiebreak has finished, it doesn’t matter who was the most recent server, the server in the following set will be the receiver of the first point in the tiebreak.

There can often be some confusion over who should be serving after a tiebreak game, especially considering service swaps hands so frequently. However, if you follow the simple rule outlined above, you will always ensure the right person serves the first game of the next set.


How many points do you play to in a tiebreak?

In a tiebreak, it is a race to seven points. However, you must win by at least two points, so matches are played until that game score is achieved. In the first round of the 2022 Australian Open, Jaimee Fourlis and Jason Kubler won a tiebreak 17-15 to win the game, setting a new grand slam record.

How many grand slams are there in a calendar year?

In total, there are four grand slams played every year. Each grand slam includes singles and doubles matches, and they are played in America, England, France, and Australia.

How many games do you need to win to win a set?

In total, you must win at least six games to win a set. However, you must win by two games, so some sets end 7-5. If the set goes to 6-6, there is a tiebreak game to determine the winner. In the final set, this tiebreak is often removed, and players continue playing until one has won two more games than their opponent.

Do the set rules change in doubles matches?

In almost all competitions, a doubles match follows the same rules, whereby in a best-of-three format, sets are at least six games long and at least seven points in the tie breaks.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, once you start to understand how sets work, the tennis scoring system certainly seems less confusing and daunting!

Now, whether you are playing with your friends, trying to establish which side of the court you should be on, watching a game at home, or trying to work out when the next point wins, you can do so using the information provided here.

Keep an eye out for even more tennis jargon breakdowns to help you become a tennis expert.

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Editor of All Points Tennis and a huge Roger Federer fan, I've spent countless hours studying his moves, especially his forehand and one-handed backhand. I also love writing about all the technical stuff like rackets and strings. I'm super pumped to share my insights with fellow tennis lovers here.