Drop the Match Tie Breaker

Phil Ludwig
Phil Ludwig
You are playing a close league or tournament doubles match, splitting two very hard-fought sets, with lots of close games and terrific points. Then, the match is decided by a couple of lucky or bad shots in a quick ten-point match tie breaker. Is that fair?

Naples tennis friend Phil Ludwig writes:

I believe that that we need to ask the USTA to make a change. Focusing mainly on senior tennis, why in tournaments do senior singles players play a third set to decide a match after they split the first two sets and not in doubles?

Singles is more grueling; and if a 10 point tiebreak is needed to decide then it should occur in singles not in doubles. Men’s senior doubles, whether in league play or tournaments should be decided with a full third set! I don’t know any senior player that likes the 10 point super tiebreak! What are your thoughts and can we protest this

I agree with Phil… If the tournament needs to control time on the court, it is more logical to do it in singles than doubles.


With all the good comments about the Match Tie Breaker (below), I have modified my opinion and have a suggestion for the Florida Super Senior Grand Prix series and other tournament directors…

• There are many players who care more about their singles record/ranking than doubles;
• But there are a growing number of players who play doubles only and feel cheated playing the match tie breaker.
• And there are regular complaints from tournament directors and those who are forced to play into the twilight and/or under the lights, because matches run so long.
• So to balance out all needs and objectives, how about up to the quarters play two sets and TB in BOTH singles and doubles and from then on play two out of three full sets? That way both are the same.

What are your thoughts and is it possible to change?

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23 thoughts on “Drop the Match Tie Breaker

  1. Dick Stockton: It’s the best format for all senior players. If the pros can do it, senior amateurs can do it.

  2. I’m a full believer in 3 full sets…..Florida Cup and State Closed are 3 sets in doubles as are some of the West Coast SSGP events.

    Mark – Since you are The Man, could you encourage ALL the FL SSGPs to use it? Thanks, george

  3. I agree , too many times a few missed shots , turn a tie breaker into a loss after
    after a long struggle.

  4. Hello , there is merit in both comments so far, but I remember when a lot of players played both singles and doubles . The emphasis was on singles for bragging rights so they were happy to have a tie breaker in doubles, in order to save energy for singles. Now we have some great doubles teams , that only play doubles so I agree make it a full set . The players would have to decide up front do I have energy for both . They level of senior tennis is awesome and we all know you have got to be ready to move it move it move it lol.

  5. I never realized how cute Phil really is. I think he looks better in pictures than he does in real life.

  6. I offer the opposing view to my esteemed colleagues. While it is always great to battle out for three sets , there are some strong reasons to NOT play three sets particularly in senior tennis. If you are playing both singles and doubles for several days in a row as we get older , it becomes very tiring. Thus guys give up playing doubles. On the FL SSGP we used to play out for the third, but doubles were lasting well into the night because of long three setters. Neither the players nor the tournament directors were enjoying it. Since using the match TB that has been greatly reduced.

    The match TB is is the equivalent of about 3 to 4 games and usually gives the best team a good chance to win. However, it does give the underdog a little more chance and is exciting for spectators. I understand why those who play primarily doubles want to play a full three sets, but in the interest of having more players play doubles and in cases where courts are at a premium, the Match TB is the best option. For the FL SSGP I think it would be a mistake to go back to late night matches.

    Larry – thanks for the other perspective. It seems like more guys are choosing to play doubles only, so they feel cheated. I guess the solution is similar to what the ATP has done in streamlining the pro dubs hoping to get more name players to play. Is that working? george

  7. Some tournaments have a third set for doubles. Who makes the decision as to the tie breaker in the third set. Is it the tournament director? Florida USTA?

    Ted, the first responder was Mark Taylor, who manages USTA FL; and the implication in his reply is the TD decides. george

  8. I’d much prefer the full third set for most of the reasons above. What disturbs me is trend I see coming this year in some tournaments of utilizing best of three 10-point TBs instead of sets.
    This exactly how the 10 point TB began, slowly, then more & more clubs/tourneys/leagues saw the value of shortening the playing time to allow for more entries(ie fees) in the same time period(my own opinion of course). Now Ft. Myers just had a 1 day tourney @ Gulf Harbor and marketed & praised as great way to not commit a full weekend and still play a tourney.

    Jeff – yikes. george

  9. I don’t think we need to worry that all tournaments will become one day events. To their credit the USTA is trying to appeal to all ages and types of which some may only be able to play a one day tournament. Match TB’s were started for league play where again time is important to people. Playoffs often mean playing two team matches a day for several days. In Germany where they are normally traditionalists they play two sets with match TB’s for singles and doubles ( they play the old college format of six singles and three doubles using three courts) knowing that matches could last six or seven hours without them.

    Yes, if we only played doubles and we had all day to play then playing a full three sets is great. Do we really want to play into the late evening or risk losing tournaments, because we have to have a full three sets? I enjoy doubles as much as the next guy but I can live two sets and a TB if it helps make the tournaments better for the host clubs.

    Larry – thanks. i am sure you enjoy dubs; but i bet you enjoy “slicing up” your singles opponents more! george

  10. If the tournament format is one singles, one doubles per day, doubles should be 3 sets (unless weather issues forces more matches per day). 2,3 even 4 day tournaments probably should use the match tiebreaker. It punishes the doubles specialist (which may be me soon) but a singles player who also plays doubles is not giving so much of an advantage
    to the singles only player. That 3rd set of doubles in the 3rd match of the day really effects the next mornings singles. I really dislike the match tiebreaker but see that it has it’s place.

  11. While originally opposed, I have come to support the match tiebreaker because it allows seniors such as myself with joint problems (arthritic knees, hips, etc.) the chance to continue to play competitive tennis, something which would be increasingly problematical if faced with several days in a row of possible long three set matches.

    Rick, another good perspective! Thanks, George

  12. I do enjoy hitting a few slices here and there in singles, but a nice poach feels pretty good also. Ok, my last point. The issue in FL on the SSGP is that because we have to start later (members need to use courts in morning) there is a good chance if there are long singles matches and we play three sets in doubles that some of the doubles will end up playing late under lights ( which are usually that good). From what I’ve heard including myself not many of the super senior have very good night vision. So it comes down to would you rather play three and finish under the lights or play two sets & TB and play in daylight? I for one don’t want a match determined by who can see the best under lights. Where we can start earlier and daylight is not an issue, bring on three sets.

    Larry, ok, you have convinced me for tournaments! (But not in league play). Thanks. George

  13. And looking to the future, could the trend be MORE ten-pointers? Here is an article sent to me by Jeff Boston…
    When Mike Baldwin held a 10-point tiebreaker tournament Wednesday at Cambier Park in Naples for the state’s certified tennis pros as part of their May convention, he got exactly what he wanted.

    Competitive matches.

    A good workout without players getting too sore.

    A different way to run an event when they return home.

    The singles tournament took four hours. Doubles — mixed included — took another four. Usually that event took two days.

    “We’re not young, pro-tour-fit guys,” said Baldwin, Club at Mediterra‘s director of tennis. “My right calf started to cramp, my partner tweaked his groin and another guy was fighting tennis elbow. The last thing we needed was to overdue it, go to work and be debilitated.”

    Baldwin, who ran the first sanctioned USTA singles tiebreaker tournament last August, believes we’ll see more 10-point tiebreaker tourneys across the state after talking to the pros.

    “It’s an idea whose time has come,” he said. “I don’t know if it will make tournaments obsolete. I think there will be a Grand Prix of five to six events. But I think there will be more of these one-day tournaments to supplement that.”

    On Saturday, June 6, Gulf Harbour director of tennis Mike Curran is putting on a one-day, USTA-sanctioned doubles 10-point Tiebreaker Tennis Tournament, which he believes is the first of its kind. Prize money will be awarded in open divisions.

    Instead of games going two or three sets, they’ll be best 2-of-3, 10-point tiebreakers.

    “The USTA adult competition committee figured out a good way to have a competitive tournament in one day,” Curran said. “This is good for professionals and fathers and anyone in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.”

    There is time and cost benefit. Players who have children are more likely to attend a one-day event. They also can save on hotel and food costs.

    But there also are fitness benefits to a 10-point tiebreaker system.

    •With matches lasting 30-45 minutes, there still is a good chance to work up a good sweat.

    “Every single point counts,” said Jose Pastrello, a tennis pro at Quail Creek. “It makes the game so much more dynamic. It’s faster.”

    •There is less chance of getting hurt. Two-and three-day tournaments often are a battle of attrition as players win because their foes have to default because of a pulled hamstring or quad, sore back or repetitive use.

    “You’re stiff, lactic acid is building up,” Baldwin said. “That’s when you’re primed and ready for a bad injury.”

    Curran said when he played in two matches a day, he couldn’t always go all out.


    With all the good comments about the Match Tie Breaker, I have modified my opinion and have a suggestion for the Florida Super Senior Grand Prix series and other tournament directors…

    • There are many players who care more about their singles record/ranking than doubles;
    • But there are a growing number of players who play doubles only and feel cheated playing the match tie breaker.
    • And there are regular complaints from tournament directors and those who are forced to play into the twilight and/or under the lights, because matches run so long.
    • So to balance out all needs and objectives, how about up to the quarters play two sets and TB in BOTH singles and doubles and from then on play two out of three full sets? That way both are the same.

    What are your thoughts and is it possible to change?

  15. I will mention one true thing that maybe nobody has said. After splitting sets, both teams are pretty even, right ? If so, and they play a third set; very often it will go up to 4 or 5 or even 6 all. When you use the match tiebreak you save all that time and cut to the chase. What they could also allow sometimes is that if both teams choose, let them play a third. Thanks.

  16. We see far too many players withdraw from their singles matches because of sore muscles or injuries from the previous day of a three set singles plus a doubles match. I have seen some of these tournaments where the semi finals are walk overs because of previous long matches. While many of the seniors playing tournaments are in great shape we are seniors not young conditioned pros. I agree with George that early round singles matches should be decided with a ten point third set and the doubles should really be the full third set or at least once you get to the quarters. Tennis for us is still about competition and staying healthy.

  17. So it seems most of us hate tiebreakers because you can lose by a few chance shots. On the other hand we need to cut down the total match time. Here is my suggestion: If the match does go into a 3rd set — play a MINI THIRD SET. A MINI THIRD SET starts at 4-4 (games that is) and you play regular set to 6 and have to win by 2 games. Some will lose 6-4 but not feel cheated because they had their ad in / ad out chances. Other matches will be tied at 6-6 in the 3rd set and continue until someone wins by 2. In any event, you’ve saved time by eliminating the first 6 games in the 3rd set and leaving less to chance.
    My new mantra: THIRD MINI SET.

  18. I like George’s idea, with one slight amendment:
    + Start full two-out-of-three in the semis

    Draws aren’t always that big and it’s unfortunate to see players withdrawing even at the quarter stage. Everything from traffic to lifestyle patterns (like spending time with one’s family) makes it important to compress the time spent at these tournaments. Competition is absolutely important — but health even more so.

  19. Personally, I like the best of 3 full sets in all MAIN DRAW matches (singles and doubles). In Consolation matches I’m OK with the 2 sets and a tie-breaker (singles and doubles).

    I view this topic from both angles, as a player and as a tournament director. I’m an old school guy, a traditionalist. Probably won’t change much. I’m aware of the guys that only play doubles and am sensitive to that (I may be that one day). I’m also aware of the players that don’t play tournament doubles due to the extra wear and tear on the body.

    I have preferences so on the events that I run (Florida Cup Commissioner and Florida Adult State Closed), the doubles main draws will be best of 3 full sets. For the West Coast Florida SSGP tournaments (which for 2016 there will be 7); I let the individual tournament directors decide on what they want to do. I do not impose my view or dictate to them in any way, which if you play the circuit you will see different doubles formats from week to week.

    I’ve heard it all from all across the section……late doubles matches, doubles matches getting caught under the lights, doubles matches getting delayed due to one of the four players needing rest from singles, etc. I’m sensitive to all of it. I love doubs (including mixed) and try as hard as I can to promote it. At State Closed, if you play singles, you can play doubles for $10 entry fee. I’m a big doubles guy.

    As far as the Tie-breaker tournaments are concerned……that was my creation. Thought it up at the office one day. Thought it would work. USTA Florida is constantly looking to market, promote and introduce current and new players to the game. I thought it would work and it has. The 40 point singles challenge as well. New formats and awareness of demographic changes are a big growing focus right now (of course, they hope to get USTA memberships out of it as well).

    The TB and 40 point challenges were passed in Oct. 2013 and began piloting in ’14. They are designed for the 3.0-4.5 player that probably doesn’t play regular tournaments. We offer a “senior” or “masters” (whatever you want to call it) division of 50+. So far, there hasn’t been a lot of response in that demo which is OK. However, the kids (under 35) have responded well to it. Sign of the current times in my opinion.

    Any questions for me at any time can be sent to CatsCane@aol.com. The 2016 SSGP schedule hopefully will be done soon. I’m constantly working for you guys, having done this for the last year plus, its been great.

    Mark, thanks for the thoughtful and thorough reply. We are looking forward to the tournament lineup when done! George

  20. I am for the tiebreaker because I have been Phil’s partner many times over the years and after 2 long sets I’m tired of carrying him – it’s “hit the ball, drag Phil, hit the ball, drag Phil, hit………”

  21. Excellent conversation, thanks to everyone for some great dialogue. I understand the importance of doing match TB’s in certain time-limited situations e.g. rain, short tournaments, consolation, team play, etc.

    However, I am concerned about the growing encroachment of match TB’s for juniors and seniors. A Match TB still involves too much luck and there is nothing more beautiful in tennis than a match that goes a full third -set which allows for multiple opportunities for come-backs, momentum switches, etc. A full three set tells us who is the better player that day. I don’t think that’s always true with a Match TB, and I have some painful examples of that statement.

    One thing for sure in closely contested matches, the player who wins the second set has a huge advantage in the Match TB because of momentum and confidence. This may or may not show up in statistics because often a much better player may fall asleep in one set, decide to practice a particular strategy, or a weaker player may be on fire or get a few lucky breaks. In these cases, usually the much better player will win that TB.

    Interesting proposal from George for sure. I’m still for keeping all singles main draws for national tournaments to be the full three set format. I love doubles, and feel the same way about doubles, but I can see the logic when there are issues with playing under the lights which is not that great of option.

  22. I am not a great fan of change in tennis. I came to accept James Van Allen’s creation and its subsequent modifications. Now I cannot imagine playing the endless sets that existed before the advent of the tiebreaker.
    Now as I engage in senior tennis, the demands imposed on my body by playing 3 hour matches in singles, followed by a doubles match is too much, especially when repeated for several days. Most of us simply cannot recover.
    So. What to do? Only play singles? Shorten matches somewhat? I prefer the latter and would play super tiebreakers in both singles and doubles. Participation would increase and we would have fewer injuries.
    Hey, we are there for the friendship and the beer anyway!

    Bill – I understand it will be a tournament by tournament decision… so you are in charge of our health and future at the WTC one. george

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