What Is A Set In A Tennis Match?

Sets are part of the scoring system in tennis. When a player/team wins a certain number of points, they win a game. When they win a certain number of games, they win the set. And when they win a certain number of sets, they win the match. Once that happens, the competition is over.


To best understand how a set works, it is necessary to acknowledge how points are scored within a game. A player/team needs to score four points in order to win a game. The numbers used for scoring each point, however, are in unusual increments. If a player/team scores four points in a row, they go up 15, 30, and then 40 points, and, after scoring the next point, they win the game. Moreover, a score of zero is referred to as "love".

Before each point is played, the serving player/team calls out the score of the game, starting with their own score. In other words, if the serving player/team is ahead in a game 15-0, before the serve, they would call out "15-love." If the non-serving player wins the first point of the game, the score is "love-15". In professional matches, this responsibility is placed on the umpire.

A "deuce" occurs when the score is tied at 40. In most cases, a player/team must win by at least two points, so the first player/team to score a point after a "deuce" only has the "advantage". That same player/team must score again in order to win the game. When it comes to no-ad scoring, though, the first player to score a point after the score is tied at 40-40 wins the game.

How to Win a Set

In order to win a set, a player/team must win six games, but must be ahead by at least two games. If the player/team that was ahead beforehand, wins again and is ahead seven games to five games, then they win the set. If, however, each player/team has won six games, then a final tiebreaker game must be played. Whichever team/player wins that game, wins the tiebreaker and wins the set.

Game, Set, Match

Depending on a couple of different factors, the number of sets necessary to win a match will vary. In most cases, matches are played as a best of three series, so the first player/team to win three sets, wins the match. This includes women's play and most of men's play.

Men's matches in the Davis Cup and the Grand Slam tournaments, also known as the four majors, on the other hand, consist of a best of five series. These tournaments include the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. In this case, the first player/team to reach three sets is deemed the winner of the match.

In other scenarios, less traditional forms of sets may be played. To cut down on the amount of time a match may take, participants may play a "pro set." In this kind of match, the winner of the set is the winner of the match. The first player/team to win eight games by a margin of at least two games wins the set, and therefore, the match.

Wimbledon and Roland Garros' Advantage Sets

The Grand Slam tournaments are The Australian Open played on hard courts in January, followed by Roland Garros, The French Open, on clay courts in May, then it is Wimbledon Tennis Classic in England on grass courts during the month of July, and finally the U.S. Open played in New York City on hard courts in August.

For the Men's Singles and Doubles Matches both at Grand Slams and at the Davis Cup, the scoring is based on a best-of-five set. The first player to win three sets wins.

However, at Wimbledon and Roland Garros, the scoring also consists of an "advantage set" when the match starts its fifth set. These are the two Grand Slam venues that have extra games.

The longest tennis match ever played was at the All England Club Wimbledon back in 2010. The match played between Nicolas Mahut (FRA) and John Isner (USA) ended after 11-hours, five minutes and took over three days to complete.

At both the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, the best-of-five set format is followed. However, where Wimbledon and Roland Garros deviate from the traditional scoring is once the fifth set starts.

Tennis Scoring Explained

For each tennis match, the scoring is as followed:

Number of PointsTennis Score
0Love (zero/nil)

The winner of six games wins the set. Win three sets and the player has won the match. Typically, when each player is "on serve", meaning both players are winning the games where they are serving, and the score reaches 6-6 for games a tiebreak is started. The tiebreaker is won by the first player to reach seven points and at least two points higher than their opponent. Some examples of the tie break would be 7-5, 9-7, 10-8. Then the score is shown as 7-6 for that set and the tie breaking score is placed next to the loser's score.

R. Federer (SWI)7
R. Nadal (SPA)

In this example, Federer won their first set 7-6, with a tiebreak score of 10-8.

Fifth Set Scoring

Once the first set starts is where Wimbledon and Roland Garros deviate from the conventional scoring. Going back to the longest match ever played, Isner won the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68. The reason why it took over three days to complete this match and the score reached the seventies is due to the fact that at Wimbledon and Roland Garros a player cannot win the match in the fifth set with a tie break. Instead, it is the first player to go up by two games. The set could end quickly at 8-6 or it could go on till someone wins 70-68 11 hours later.

An Exhausting Fifth Set

For some time now there has been pressure from players and coaches for Wimbledon to change to a tiebreak in the fifth set due to player fatigue. Last year, Wimbledon finally changed their rules after the Men's Semi-final between Kevin Anderson and John Isner went over six hours and ended with Anderson clenching his victory 26-24. Anderson, exhausted, played the final the next day and lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic. Anderson following the match stated: "Of course my body didn't feel great. It's not going to happen when you've played so much tennis."

This match has led to a rule change, that starting in 2019, Wimbledon will begin a fifth set tiebreak that will start once the game score reaches 12-12.

Now Roland Garros is the last GrandSlam without any kind of fifth set tiebreak. This change at Wimbledon comes after many years of studying match data. Although there is pressure to remove extra games all together from players, the chairmen and presidents of the tournaments are hesitant to change the tradition.