How Do You Win a Tiebreak in Tennis, Exactly?

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Right now, tennis — and its racquet-sport cousins, pickleball and padel — are having a moment. Whether it’s due to “Challengers” or the of-the-moment tenniscore trend, people have never been so interested in the sport.

But while tennis is super fun to watch, it’s not always so easy to understand. There’s the funny terminology, like “let” and “ad.” In fact, the unique language the sport uses means tennis scoring is somewhat mysterious, too. And once you’ve got the hang of all the “loves” and “faults,” you still have to contend with the actual rules of the game — like, for instance, how you win a tie break in tennis.

Tennis matches typically don’t end in a tie; in the event of a tie, a tiebreaker is usually played in order to determine who wins. But it’s not so simple “first one to score wins.” Here, we’ve provided a simple breakdown and easy to follow explanation of how to win a tiebreaker in tennis.

Tennis Tiebreak Rules

Some of the most competitive sets in tennis come down to a tiebreaker: an extra game in which one player must score at least seven points to win.

How do you reach this point? First, a refresher: tennis matches are made up of two to three sets. To win a set, a player has to win at least six games, and must win by at least two games. So a 6-4 score wins a set, but a 6-5 score means play will continue.

A tiebreak situation arises when both sides have won six games in a set. When the score is tied 6-6, the two-game advantage rule ceases. Instead, the opponents play one more game to seven points. (More on exactly how tiebreak games are scored, below.) Whoever wins the final tiebreak game wins the set. The final score will then be seven games to six, and that’s sufficient to win when a tiebreak is involved.

To kick off the tiebreak, the player whose turn it is to serve begins by serving one point. Their opponent then serves one point, and from then on until the game ends, the players alternate serving two consecutive points each.

Every six points, the players switch ends of the court, which helps mitigate any environmental advantages, such as wind or sunlight. (As a reminder, when you’re facing the net, the right side of the court is the deuce side, and the opposite side is the ad side.)

How Do You Win a Tiebreak in Tennis?

A player must reach seven points minimum and have a two-point advantage over their opponent to win the tiebreak. So, if one player has six points and one has five, and the player with the advantage scores the next point, they win the game and the set (and possibly even the match), because they met both conditions for winning the tiebreak. But if the players were tied at six points, it wouldn’t matter who won the next point because no one could achieve a two-point advantage; instead, they would keep playing until someone managed to pull away.

Also notable: unlike the traditional tennis scoring of, ’15, 30, 40, Game,’ – in a tiebreak, the scoring system changes to the numbering of 1, 2, 3, etc. So the final score of the tiebreak game will be 7-5 (or 8-6, or whatever the case may be).

— Additional reporting by Jade Esmeralda

Amanda Prahl is a freelance writer, playwright/lyricist, dramaturg, teacher, and copywriter/editor. Amanda has also contributed to Slate, Bustle, Mic, The Mary Sue, and others.

Jade Esmeralda, MS, CSCS, is a Staff Writer, Health & Fitness. A life-long martial artist and dancer, Jade has a strong passion for strength & conditioning, sports science, and human performance. She graduated with a Master of Science degree in Exercise Science and Strength and Conditioning from George Washington University.

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