In tennis, a set consists of a minimum of 6 games, but a player must win by at least 2 games.
This is called the regular sets to 6—which is the most common set structure.
But many other set structures are used to speed up the games, such as:
- 8 game pro set
- Short sets
- Fast 4 sets
This is a complete post about how many games there are in a set of tennis in different set structures.
- Strange Origins of the Tennis Scoring System
- Sets in a Standard Tennis Game
- Read Also
Strange Origins of the Tennis Scoring System
Tennis has a unique scoring system.
There is no official source why it’s this way but many have tried to come up with various explanations.
- Some believe that the point scores resemble an imaginary clockface
- Others suggest it might have something to do with how far forward players were allowed to stand when serving back in the early days of tennis.
Whatever the origin of this unique scoring system, one thing is for sure: it has stood the test of time. The same antique scoring system is still the official system that everyone uses.
There have been a few changes to how points are won throughout the history of tennis.
The changes focus on set structure.
Sets used to have no length limit, but now tie-breaks help control the game duration. Before tie-breaks, tennis games used to last an uncontrollable long time.
The sets can also be made longer for single-set matches or shorter to avoid overly long matches.
👉 Read more about how tie-breaks work in the detailed guide on how the tennis scoring system works.
Sets in a Standard Tennis Game
In tennis, a regular set goes up to 6 games. If the set is tied at 6-6, a tie-break takes place. Usually, a match has 3 sets of 6 games each.
For shorter matches, an 8-game set can be used.
In quick, one-day events, sets of 4 games are common.
Here’s a complete breakdown of different set structures of tennis games.
Regular Sets to 6
In this traditional tennis format, players alternate serving each game.
The first player/team to win 6 games wins the set, but they must be ahead by 2 games. If the score reaches 6-6, usually a tie-break is played.
Some of you might be wondering what “ahead by 2 means”.
So here’s an example.
A tennis match between Artturi and Leo is set to end when either player wins 6 games.
After 10 grueling sets, the games are tied at 5-5. Because the winner must be ahead by 2, the game won’t end at 6-5 or 5-6. Thus, Leo and Artturi will continue until the game is either:
- 7-5 (Leo wins)
- 5-7 (Artturi wins)
- 6-6 (Tie-break)
In the tie-break, the winner is the first to 7 points with a 2-point lead. The set’s score for the tie-break winner is 7-6. Matches are generally played in the format of best of three sets, but men’s Grand Slam tournaments are played best of five.
For example, here’s a scoreboard of Leo taking home the victory after a tie-break. Here Leo scored 12 tie-break points and Artturi 10. Leo won by 2 points, thus he won the tie-break, and thus the 7th game, and the current set.
A set typically lasts from 20 to 60 minutes, but it can vary sometimes.
8 Game Pro Set
These days, more amateur league competitions are adopting ‘pro sets.’ These are used to speed up the games.
8 game pro sets are similar to the 6-game sets, but here a player needs to win 8 games to win the entire set (instead of playing potentially three 6-game sets).
In the 8-game pro set, the tie-break is played if the game score reaches 7-7.
Unlike in 6 regular sets, in the 8-game pro set players don’t need to be ahead by two (in games or tie-break points.) This speeds up the games even more.
8-game pro sets are typically played in amateur league matches where the matches take place after work. This prevents the matches from eating up the whole evening.
By playing each round as an 8-game pro set (instead of the best of three 6-game sets), each round lasts 40-60 minutes.
This makes the matches shorter and easier to complete in a short amount of time.
Short Set Formats (Fast Form)
There’s a growing trend for one-day tennis tournaments, both for juniors and seniors, due to people’s busy schedules.
Naturally, shorter tournaments need shorter matches (the players might play three or four matches in a day.)
To keep matches brief but maintain traditional scoring, ‘short sets’ take place.
In a short set, a player wins by reaching only 4 games (with a two-game lead). Tie-breaks are used at 3-3 (or 4-4) to resolve close sets.
Typically, short set format matches are best of three sets, with the first two as short sets and the third a tie-break to 10 points to speed it up even more.
Some tournaments make it even quicker with the ‘Fast 4’ format.
This involves two short sets and a tie-break, but with additional rules to speed up play.
For example, at deuce, a single ‘sudden death’ point decides the game.
Traditionally, these ‘Fast 4’ games also had a ‘no let’ rule. This meant that if a serve hit the net but landed in the correct service box, the point continued (unlike in traditional rules of the game.)
Sets with No Tie-Break
Years ago, tennis didn’t have tie-breaks, so sets continued until a player led by two games. As you might imagine, this could take a very long time.
A famous example of an extremely long match was at Wimbledon in 2010, where John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played for over 11 hours, ending with a score of 70-68 in the fifth set.
Nowadays, such lengthy matches are inconvenient and heavy for the players.