How many sets are there in tennis?

There is less pressure on the girls: they do not have matches of five sets

At the vast majority of professional tournaments, matches are played in three sets. This means that you have to win two sets to win. Why is it called a three set format then? It’s simple: it’s not a fact that you can beat your opponent without a set – the final score can be 2-1. So you will play three games.

The only, but very significant exception to this rule are the Grand Slam tournaments, about which we wrote in detail here. In the men’s part of the competition there is a five-set format, that is, a tennis player must win three games to win. Accordingly, a men’s match in a major may consist of three, four and five sets (3-0, 3-1, 3-2). This is one of the key differences between the Slams and other tournaments: even if a player wins a match 2-0 in games, it does not mean that he will win.

In the Open Era, four players share the record for most 0-2 wins: Aaron Krixton, Boris Becker, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Each of them has 10 such victories.

How Many Sets Are Played In Tennis?

The record for the share of won 0-2 matches belongs to South African Kevin Carren, who played in the late 70’s and early 90’s. Karren won 7 out of 20 matches in which he lost the first two sets, i.e. 35%.

However, the five-set format is slowly dying out. The main reason is simple: it’s inconvenient for broadcasting. It is difficult for broadcasters to build a broadcasting schedule without a clear understanding of the duration of the match, and a five-set match can last four, five, or even six-plus hours. Another criticism of the format is the cliched mindset of young audiences, who have a hard time accepting such lengthy matches.

Back in 2007, most Masters tournaments, the second most prestigious series in tennis, featured a five-set format, but from the following year there was a final shift to three games. The Olympics gave up in 2019 – then it was announced that the men’s final in Tokyo 2020 is also converted to a three-set format.

At the same time, the rejection of “best-of-five” draws a lot of criticism from the hardcore and most loyal part of the audience. According to them, the three-set format lacks the drama inherent in all the landmark matches in tennis history, each of which was played in five sets.

Examples regularly cited include

  • The 2009 Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (3-2 in favor of the Spaniard; many players, journalists and fans call this match the best ever);
  • Australian Open 2017 final between them (3-2 in favor of Federer, in the middle of the fifth set the rivals played one of the most exciting draws in the history of the tournament at least);
  • Roland Garros 1999 final between Andre Agassi and Andre Medvedev (3-2 in favor of the American, who managed to get back from 0-2, i.e. if the match was played in three sets, the Ukrainian tennis player would be the champion).

One of the proposals to change the rules is to remove the five-set format in the early stages of the Majors. Thus, it is supposed to relieve a very busy schedule of matches in the first week. Another option would be to do away with five games altogether, but if players reach the deciding third set it would be played without a tie-break. In theory, this could provide viewers with enough drama and make the match longer than a normal three-set match, but not as long as a best-of-five match. For now, however, all these ideas remain at the level of talk.