Tennis matches are made up of a certain amount of sets to determine the winner. A set goes to six games, and each game consists of the first to four points with unique scorekeeping.
When looking strictly at sets, there are different variations of tennis to determine a winner. How many sets are played in tennis? There are usually only two distinct formats used at any level.
Tennis is almost always played in best-of-3 sets, the only exception to this is the men’s Grand Slam tournaments, which uses a best-of-5 set format. There are no tournaments for women that are played best-of-5.
|High School & College
|Grand Slam (Men)
In best-of-three sets matches, the first player to win two sets wins the match. This is a much faster form of tennis, and it is played in a majority of tournaments.
In fact, for women tennis players, there are only best-of-three sets matches at the professional level.
Pros of Best-Of-Three Sets
Why the shift towards best-of-three sets in tennis? A lot of the major pros to using this format make the sport more marketable.
It is much easier for an underdog player to play at their best for two sets instead of three to win a match. The shorter the match, the better the chance an underdog will have in a contest.
There’s a reason why Grand Slam events tend to have fewer upsets on the men’s side compared to Masters 1000 tournaments. The stage is bigger for sure, but feeling the pressure of playing at a high level for a long time starts to wear people down.
Easier to Bounce Back
At any level, it’s much easier to bounce back from a best-of-three sets match the next day instead of a best-of-five sets match.
That’s why whenever best-of-five sets matches at the professional level take place , tournament directors do everything they can to give players at least one day of rest. The only way they play back-to-back days is if rain becomes a factor.
The easiest way to put this is that a hard-fought, best-of-three sets match will take just as long as a pretty dominant performance in a best-of-five sets match. With each additional set added to the next, it becomes that much more challenging for players.
Easier to Schedule
There’s a lot less variation when looking at best-of-three sets matches. Ask any tournament organizer or TV director, and they despise best-of-five sets matches.
Even the longest of three-set matches likely won’t go much past three hours. Have one long best-of-five sets match, and it throws the entire day off. This can be particularly devastating in the early rounds of a Grand Slam.
Easier For Fans to Follow
Sports fans seem to prefer best-of-three sets from a spectator standpoint. It’s much easier to stay engaged for that amount of time instead of sitting around for an entire best-of-five sets match.
Every sport is looking to shrink the amount of time it takes for a contest to wrap up. it’s going to be easier for the average casual fan to make time for a best-of-three sets match instead of a best-of-five sets match.
Best-of-five sets matches are reserved for Grand Slams at the professional level for men only.
For a long time, the ATP Tour Finals and the final match of every Masters 1000 Series was also a best-of-five sets match. However, it’s been reduced to only Grand Slams and will probably stay that way for the time being.
In a best-of-five sets match, a winner is not determined until someone wins three sets. This can take a long time to complete a match given the variety of sets that could take place.
Although there have been some talks about having the women play best-of-five sets in a Grand Slam as well, scheduling would make it very difficult to allow this to happen.
Pros of Best-Of-Five Sets
There are still plenty of people who prefer the format of best-of-five sets. These are some of the biggest reasons why.
It’s very difficult to pull off an upset in a best-of-five sets match. While it does happen, the victory is a lot more earned than in a best-of-three sets match.
What ends up happening is that the best players usually go deep into the tournaments with this format. As much as people might say they like upsets, the ratings show that people want to see the best of the best at the end.
Tennis has always been about stamina. A player can be great for a certain amount of time, but they need to be great for an entire tournament to win it all. In a best-of-five sets match, there is even more emphasis on stamina.
There is something to be said about holding onto tradition. As more and more tournaments move away from best-of-five sets, holding onto the way tennis has always been played makes a difference.
Traditionalists want to ensure the best-of-five sets matches at least stay around for the Grand Slams. That makes these matches seem like they mean more on the biggest stages.
It also increases the level of competition, as players know they are about to jump into battle.
There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a player come back from a two-sets-to-love deficit and win in five sets. Although the match can go on for a long time, seeing how everything changes and momentum plays a factor can get fans encouraged.
Simply put, there isn’t that much time to make a comeback in a best-of-three sets match. Once a player is trending downwards, trying to turn around momentum can seem impossible.
On rare occasions, there are other formats followed in tennis. For example, a single set can determine a winner. This usually happens in a tournament where there is limited time to sort everything out.
Sets can extend from 1st to 6 games, all the way to 1st to 10 games. It’s really up to the organizers to set up the particular format.
Another option is to use a tiebreaker as a replacement for a set. This happens most often if two sides split sets in a best-of-three sets format. Instead of playing a full third set, a tiebreaker works instead.
Tiebreakers are traditionally played either to seven points or 10 points. Try to have the format set in place before starting. This will help eliminate any controversies that might pop up.
With two different formats to understand, it’s pretty easy to handle the scoring with sets. Of course, tennis scoring by itself is a bit complicated for the average person. It takes time to learn how to calculate everything.
When tuning into a men’s match at a Grand Slam, understand that it’s likely going to take a while to complete.
It’s nice to have a bit of a difference at certain tournaments, but it becomes clear why best-of-five sets matches don’t happen throughout the season.