The tennis tiebreak typically happens when the players reach 6 games all in a set as an alternative to playing the set until one player wins by two games. It is a special game that goes to 7 points. There are variants of the tiebreak used in some types of leagues and tournaments.

Start of the tiebreak

At a game score of 6-6, the player that would normally serve the next game begins the tiebreak (this is also the same player that started serving the set). The first point of the tiebreak is played from the ad side (the left). The tiebreak is scored using ordinary numbers (e.g. 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, and so on). After the first point, the other player serves the next two points, from the deuce court then the ad court (right then left). The service then alternates two points at a time for the remainder of the tiebreak.

Winning the tiebreak

The standard tiebreak is played until one player reaches a score of 7, but the winning player must be ahead by two points, so in theory the tiebreak could go on indefinitely. The record for a tiebreak in men’s ATP professional tennis is 20-18 in a match between Roger Federer and Marat Safin. When reporting the score for a tiebreak set, the typical format includes the number of points won by the loser of the set in parentheses. For example, in the case of Federer vs. Safin it was 7-6 (18).

Change of sides

The standard tiebreak has a change of sides every 6 points. If the score is tied, this would be at 3-3, 6-6, and so on. The change of side happens between the two service points of a server, so another way to look at the tiebreak is in groups of 6 points: ad (change server) deuce ad (change server) deuce ad (change server) deuce (change sides of the court but do not change server), repeat.


Variants of the tiebreak may be played at a different time to a different winning score. For example, in professional team tennis a tiebreak is played at a game score of 5-5 and goes to 9 points. In some leagues and tournaments, a super tiebreak is used in the place of playing a third set and is played to 10 points.

The Coman tiebreak uses a different pattern for changing sides and is sometimes used in doubles. In the Coman tiebreak, the players change sides after the first point and then after every additional 4 points. In doubles, this allows the doubles players to serve the tiebreak points from the same side that they served during the set.

About The Author

Ron has started several businesses around technology and communications. He founded the WorldWide Tennis Association to use his technical skills to improve tennis players ability globally to compete, get ranking and have fun without unnecessary barriers.