What Is A Match In Tennis? (Definition Fully Explained)

A match is a common term in sports. However, it can vary from sport to sport, what a match consists of, and what it entails. So, what is a match in tennis?

The term match in tennis describes an entire contest between two sides. A tennis match consists of points, games, and sets. Tennis matches are played in a best of three or best of five format. A tennis match is won by the player who is first to win two sets (best of three) or three sets (best of five).

As you have been able to read, a match in tennis is made up of many different components. In this article, you will find out how a tennis match is played, what the rules are, and much more!

What is a Tennis Match?

A match in tennis is when two opponents face each other, with one always emerging victorious in the end.

It can be compared to matches in other sports, but a tennis match always has a winner. This is because, in tennis, there is no tie, which is the case in some other sports.

Moreover, there are different formats of a tennis match.

Singles matches:

Singles is the most popular format of a tennis match. In this, two players compete against each other; in men’s singles, it is two men, and in women’s singles, two women.

No singles format exists in which a man and a woman compete against each other.

Singles matches are by far the most popular. The best and most famous players are active in this match format.

In addition, this is also where players can make the most money.

Doubles matches:

Tennis matches can also be played as doubles.

In this, you have men’s doubles, in which two teams of two men compete against each other, and women’s doubles, in which two teams of two women compete against each other.

In addition, there is also the mixed doubles format. In this, two teams of one man and one woman will compete against each other.

Exhibition matches:

There are also exhibition matches in tennis. These matches are not part of a tournament or competition. They are unofficial matches where in most cases, less serious play is involved.

The purpose of these matches is to entertain the crowd and to show skills that are less often displayed in official matches.

There are also many exhibition matches played between former players. This way, you can see John McEnroe and Pete Sampras play again.

What Does a Tennis Match Consist of?

Now that we know what a tennis match is, we need to know what a tennis match consists of.

There are three units of scoring in a tennis match, each of them interlinked. The smallest is a point, the next is a game, and the biggest unit of scoring is a set

Below I will explain all the scoring elements of a tennis match.


A point is the smallest unit of scoring.

During a point, there is a server and a returner. The server lines up on the right side of the court and serves in the diagonally opposite box.

The opponent returns the ball, and the point takes place.

After one player wins the point, the next point starts, but this time the server lines up on the left side of the court (the side switches every point).

One of the peculiarities of tennis is that after winning a point, instead of the score being 1-0, it is 15-0. Two points take you to 30-0 and three to 40-0.

It is called deuce if the score gets tied at 40-40.

To win a point, you need to outplay your opponent and hit a winner (a shot that the opponent does not touch), or you need your opponent to make an error.

The point ends when one player doesn’t hit the ball, hits the ball into the net, or hits the ball outside the court lines. 

What makes tennis such a fascinating game is how important each point is.

At the top level, pro players will give their all for every point, no matter the situation. Every point is basically a battle in the context of a bigger war.


A game is the next unit of scoring up from a point. Each game has a serving player and a returning player, with the same player serving throughout the whole game.

At the end of each game, the players switch so that the player who just served is now returning, and the player who was returning is now serving.

To win a game, you need to win 4 points, which means winning the next point when you have a 40 score (as previously seen).

However, if the score is 40-40 (deuce), then you must win two points in a row to win a game. If you win a point, it is your “advantage,” and winning a point when it is your advantage wins you the game.

This allows a game to theoretically go on forever, as long as neither player wins a point when it is their advantage.

In 1975, Anthony Fawcett and Keith Glass went to deuce 37 times for a total of 80 points in the game. That is more points than some full matches!

Serving is considered an advantage in tennis because the server can hit the ball however they want for the first shot.

The server is expected to win the game. If they lose the game, it is called a break of serve.

So, how many games are in a tennis match?

This is impossible to answer because it completely depends on the match. 

The minimum number of games in a best of three sets tennis match is 12, for a score of 6-0, 6-0. The maximum is 39, for a score of 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. 

You will see a massive variety of scores in tennis matches and surprising scores very often.


The final unit of scoring in a tennis match is the set. The first player to win six games wins the set. 

However, if the score is 5-5 after ten games, then getting to 6 isn’t enough to win the set. Instead, the player needs to win 7-5 by two clear games (like winning a game by two clear points)

If the score goes to 6-6 in games, a tie break is played. A tie-break is a special game. It is first to 7 points; the server changes after the first point played and every two points after that. 

A set will generally last about an hour, although shorter sets can be around half an hour, and the very longest sets can go on for an hour and a half, if not longer. 

So, how many sets are in a tennis match?

Almost all tennis matches are best of 3 sets. This means that the first player to win two sets wins the match. If both players win a set, a deciding set is played, meaning that most tennis matches are 2 or 3 sets long.

However, there are four tournaments in the world where this is not the case, and they are called the Grand Slams.

Famous well beyond the world of tennis, the Grand Slams are the Australian Open, French Open (Roland-Garros), Wimbledon, and the US Open.

At these grand events, it is best of five rather than being a best of three format. Thus, it’s the first player to win three sets rather than two.

It must be said that during Grand Slams, only the men’s singles uses the best of five format.

So, a tennis match is at least two sets and at most five sets.

How do You Win a Match in Tennis?

Now that we know what a tennis match consists of, it is worth explaining how to win a tennis match.

The first thing to point out is that winning more points or games than your opponent does not guarantee you the win.

For example, let’s imagine you win all your service games without losing a point, while your opponent wins all his service games with the score going to deuce.

If he wins the tie-break, he will have won significantly fewer points than you in the set, and yet he will have won the set.

In terms of games, let’s imagine that you win a match 7-6, 0-6, 7-6. You will have only won 14 games (7+7) while your opponent won 18 games (6+6+6).

However, you won the important games and therefore won the match.

So, there’s only one way to win a tennis match: win more sets than your opponent.

So, how is a tennis match played?

A tennis match is, of course, played between two sides. Both sides try to win games by winning points, only to have won enough games to win sets.

And in the end, the player who is first to win two sets (best of three) or three sets (best of five) wins the match.

Although it sounds straightforward, as described above, in reality, a tennis match is much more complicated than that.

A tennis match is a technical, tactical, physical, and psychological battle. What makes tennis so fascinating is the combination of all these different aspects.

For example, one player can be much better than his opponent in a technical and physical sense. However, if their opponent has superior tactics, they can still win.

A tennis match is a marathon, not a race. It is a slow battle between two players trying to best each other in various ways.

The mental aspect of the game is massive, with some players being prone to ‘choking’ (losing a match they should win).

Momentum often plays a significant role in a tennis match. A player can look much better than their opponent, seeming almost unbeatable.

However, if they lose a couple of points and their opponent starts gaining momentum, the match can completely turn on its head.

In reality, there is no answer to how a tennis match is played because it entirely depends on the two players. The beauty of tennis is that no two matches will ever be the same.

How Long is a Tennis Match?

Tennis is one of a few sports that doesn’t have a time limit. As draws are not allowed, the players need to keep playing until there is a winner, which means matches can go on for a very long time, or they can be very short.

The more well-matched the players are, the longer the match will go on.

However, there are rules in place to stop a match from going on forever, such as a serve clock, time limits on changing sides and toilet breaks, etc. 

So while there is no time limit in place, a tennis match will generally last between one and three hours for a best of 3 match. Best of 5 matches go on for longer, with some going to five or six hours.


So, there we have all the elements of a tennis match.

The winner is the player who wins the most sets (not games or points), and matches can go on for a very long time. No two tennis matches are ever the same.

Brian Henderson

I am what you might call a true tennis fanatic. When I am not on the tennis court teaching or playing myself, I am probably writing an informative article about tennis. My goal is to get as many people as possible excited and informed about tennis.
June 16, 2022
Published: June 16, 2022