US Open final set tie breakrule explained

In 2022, the US Open implemented a new 10-point tiebreak rule for the final set, which garnered attention and sparked discussions among tennis enthusiasts. It was a much-welcomed rule that would curtail the length of the games, as well as improve the scheduling for the organizers.

Let’s take a look at the rule change and its impact on the events at Flushing Meadows.

The new 10-point tiebreak rule at US Open

US Open 2023 format


The specific rules for a tiebreaker vary depending on the tournament or governing body, but the general principles remain the same. In most cases, a tiebreaker consists of a series of points, typically played to seven or ten points, with a player needing to win by a margin of two. The player who serves first in the tiebreaker alternates between the players, starting with the player who served second in the previous game.

This was implemented at Flushing Meadows in 2019, introducing a tiebreak in the final set of tennis matches. It was aimed to assess whether the rule change would contribute to a more efficient and spectator-friendly experience for both players and fans. Since then, it has undergone a trial period to evaluate its effectiveness and impact.

In its first form, it was a 12-point system. After careful consideration, that has been changed. Under the new rule, if the final set reaches 6-6, a tiebreak is played to determine the winner of the set. Unlike traditional tie breaks, however, this tie break is played to 10 points instead of 7.

This rule has been introduced to address the issue of excessively long final sets in matches, which can often result in physical fatigue and hinder the scheduling of subsequent matches. One advantage of this rule change is that it provides a clear and decisive end to the final set, eliminating the possibility of prolonged matches.

This ensures that players are not subjected to physical and mental exhaustion, while also allowing for the smooth progression of the tournament schedule. Furthermore, the new tiebreak format adds an element of excitement and tension to the final set, as players are required to win by a margin of two points.

However, some critics argue that the implementation of this rule undermines the traditional aspect of the game, where players had to win by two games in the final set. They argue that this new rule may result in a loss of the drama and intensity that can be experienced in a long final set.

Longest tennis match in history

John Isner Nicolas Mahut
Photo by Icon sport

In the Open era, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have to be credited for introducing this rule. With Isner retiring after his 17th successive appearance at the US Open, it is only apt to remember his epic battle with Mahut in the 2010 Championships first-round meeting.

The match lasted for a staggering 11 hours and 5 minutes, spread over three days, with the final set alone lasting 8 hours and 11 minutes. The intensity of the match was evident in the number of games played, with a total of 183 games in the match. This extraordinary match highlighted the physical and mental demands of playing a prolonged fifth set, and the toll it can take on the players.

The recently introduced rule change in the final set aims to address the issue of marathon matches. Under the new rule, a tie break is played once the score reaches 6-6 in the final set, rather than continuing until one player wins by two games. This change is intended to prevent matches from becoming excessively long, allowing for a more manageable and predictable conclusion.

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