Can A Tennis Match Go On Forever?

Tennis is one of those sports that can last for hours before it ends. There is no specific time limit for a tennis match, unlike some other sports such as Basketball, Soccer, Handball…

This brings the question: If there is no time limit in the rules, can a tennis match last forever?

Practically speaking, no. No tennis match can last forever because of the following simple reasons.

  1. A tennis tournament has a time limit, and so all the matches.
  2. There have never been a tennis match longer than 11 hours and 5 minutes (Wimbledon 2010).
  3. The odds of players failing to break the tie are astronomical.
  4. No human being can live forever.

Why Some People Believe That a Tennis Match Can Last Forever?

When you read other replies or articles on the web, you find people saying yes, a tennis match can last forever. And the reasons that make them believe in such a statement can be resumed below:

  1. The players keep going back and forth from Deuce to Advantage.
  2. None of the players could make a total of 7 points or more with a two-point difference in a set tie-break.
  3. Both players fail to break the other’s serve in the deciding set of French Open Singles match.

Again, let’s be realistic here. No human being can live forever as a rule of existence. In addition, the probability that the two players fail to break the tie tends to zero when time increases. In simple words, the more they play, the more likely someone will break the opponent and win the match.

The Super Tiebreak Rule in Slams

Source: Wimbledon – Youtube

Grand slams are the biggest tennis events watched by millions each year. There are four of them, and statistically, they have seen the longest matches played in tennis history.

It is not always boring though. Some matches were longer than 5 hours, but utterly exciting especially when they feature one player of the Big 3.

Nevertheless, not everyone enjoys matches that seem never-ending. As a result, three of the four grand slams directions have introduced the super tiebreak rule.

The super tiebreak means that a tiebreak is played in the deciding set if the players fail to break the serve.

  • In Wimbledon, a tiebreak to at least 7 with a 2-point difference is played if the score reaches 12 all in the final set.
  • In The Australian Open, a “first to 10” tiebreak is played in the deciding set if it reaches 6 all.
  • In The US Open, a tiebreak to at least 7 with a 2-point difference is played if the score reaches 6 all in the final set.

The French Open is the only Grand Slam still using a two-game difference rule in the deciding set.

The Final Set Tiebreak Rule in Davis Cup

Also known as the world cup of tennis, Davis Cup is the first tennis tournament played between men’s national teams competing for the trophy. It is organized by ITF and played in a knockout format.

The most successful teams are the USA (32 titles) and Australia (28 titles).

Davis cup has always been played in a 5-set format, which made it host to very long matches.

In 1989, Davis Cup adopted the tiebreak in all sets except the deciding set. This led to some exhaustingly long matches over the years.

In 2016, Davis Cup adopted a three-set match format with a tiebreak in the final set. This rule was more satisfying and practical for both the players and the spectators.

Can a tennis match end in a tie?

No. A professional tennis match cannot end in a tie and has always a winning side. And there are logical reasons for this.

  • One reason is that the scoring system in tennis is made to prevent ties. The rules of the tiebreak and the two-game difference in sets make clear that one of the opponents must win the game.
  • Another reason is that tennis tournaments are organized in a knockout format. Only one opponent can progress further and only one player or team can win the tournament. This is opposite to soccer for example, when league games can end in a draw and the teams get one point each.

What is The Longest Match Ever in Tennis?

There have been some long tennis matches over the years surpassing the 5 hours mark, especially in men’s singles matches in Grand Slams and in the Davis cup.

The longest match in tennis history was played between American John Isner and French Nicolas Mahut in the first round of Wimbledon 2010. The match length was 11 hours and 5 minutes.

The match was played over three days and the score was 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68 for a total of 183 games.

The final set alone was longer than the previous record for the longest match.

However, with the recent change of rules, we probably will never see a longer match than this one.

Top 10 Longest matches in tennis

The four Grand Slams and the Davis Cup in the older format were tournaments where the opponents could play more than 5 or 6 hours, over more than a day. We know that the longest match was played between Isner and Mahut, but there are honorable mentions as well.

Here are the 10 longest tennis matches ever.

 DurationWinnerLoserEvent
111hr 5minJohn IsnerNicolas Mahut2010 Wimbledon 1st round
27hr 1minTomáš BerdychStan Wawrinka2013 Davis Cup 1st round
36hr 43minLeonardo MayerJoão Souza2015 Davis Cup 1st round
46hr 36minKevin AndersonJohn Isner2018 Wimbledon Semi-final
56hr 33minFabrice SantoroArnaud Clément2004 French Open 1st round
66hr 31minVicki NelsonJean Hepner1984 Central Fidelity Banks International 1st round
76hr 22minJohn McEnroeMats Wilander1982 Davis Cup Quarter-final
86hr 21minBoris BeckerJohn McEnroe1987 Davis Cup Play-offs
96hr 20minLucas Arnold Ker & David NalbandianYevgeny Kafelnikov & Marat Safin2002 Davis Cup Semi-final
106hr 15minJosé Luis ClercJohn McEnroe1980 Davis Cup Final

Source: Wikipedia

Final Thoughts

The odds of the opponents failing to break the tie are simply infinite. All the tennis matches even the longest have an ending.

And it seems that the days of these insanely long matches are almost over. The Davis Cup and three out the four Grand Slams have set a tiebreak rule in the decider. Will the French Open follow up with a similar rule in the upcoming years?

Read Also: What is The Height of a Tennis Net?

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