Unlike many sports, where the match has a set length of time, a tennis match varies considerable in length. In fact, it’s technically possible for a tennis match to go on forever, but highly unlikely of course!
So, how long is a tennis match? On average, a 3 set match usually lasts between 1.5-2.5 hours, and a 5 set match usually lasts between 2-4 hours. However, there are many factors that can affect the length of a tennis match.
In this article, you’ll discover the longest and shortest matches on record, and we’ll also walk you through the factors which affect how long a tennis match lasts.
- 1 Average Length of a Tennis Match
- 2 Longest & Shortest Tennis Matches
- 3 Why Do Tennis Matches Vary In Length So Much?
- 4 Is There a Time Limit on Tennis Matches?
Average Length of a Tennis Match
The length of a tennis match can vary greatly and depends on a number of factors that we will look at further down. However, to give you a rough idea, a 3 set match usually lasts between 1.5-2.5 hours, and a 5 set match usually lasts between 2-4 hours.
One thing to note is that 5 set matches vary more in length than 3 set matches. This is because a 3 set match can only end with one of two scores; 2-1 or 2-0, so there’s only a difference of one set between any 3 set matches. On the other hand, a 5 set match can end as 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2, so there can be a possible difference of two sets.
Longest & Shortest Tennis Matches
Now we’ve looked at the average length of a tennis match, let’s look at the extreme ends of the spectrum; the longest and shortest tennis matches. Some matches end very early due to injury, but we’ll discount those.
Shortest Tennis Matches
On the men’s side, the shortest match on record came in 1946 at the Surrey Open Hard Court Championships where Jack Harper beat J. Sandiford 6-0, 6-0 in just 18 minutes losing only one point the entire match.
More recently, Jarkko Nieminen beat Bernard Tomic 6-0, 6-1 at the 2014 Miami Masters in 28 minutes. The shortest 5 set match came at the 1881 Wimbledon final where William Renshaw beat John Hartley 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 in 36 minutes.
On the women’s side, Mararet Court beat Darlene Hard 6-1, 6-1 in the 1963 Eastern Grass Court Championships final in just 24 minutes.
Longest Tennis Matches
The longest match in history came at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships where John Isner beat Nicolás Mahut in a match which lasted a whopping 11 hours and 5 minutes and took 3 days to complete.
The final score was 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68 which adds up to 183 games.
To put this into context, before this match, the record was 6 hours and 33 minutes at the 2004 French Open where Fabrice Santoro beat France Arnaud Clément for a scoreline of 6–4, 6–3, 6–7(5–7), 3–6, 16–14.
Since the Isner – Mahut match, the 2013 Davis Cup saw a 7 hours and 2 minutes doubes match between the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Still, this doesn’t get close to the marathon match at Wimbledon.
On the women’s side, the longest match came at the 1984 Central Fidelity Banks International where Vicki Nelson beat Jean Hepner in 6 hours and 31 minutes.
Why Do Tennis Matches Vary In Length So Much?
So, a tennis match can last any between 18 minutes and 11 hours, but why does the length vary so much. Well there are various factors which I will outline below.
There are various different formats of a tennis match and these can affect how long the match lasts.
Obviously a best of 3 set match will be shorter than a best of 5 set match. A 3 setter can be as short as 2 sets (2-0) and a 5 setter can be as long as 5 sets (3-2), so you can see why the lengths vary so much.
Another factor is whether or not there is a tiebreak in the 5th set (not applicable to 3 set matches as they always have a tiebreak at 6-6 in the deciding set). The US Open and Australian Open play a standard 5th set with a tiebreak at 6-6. The French Open is the only Grand Slam to continue the traditional no tiebreak 5th set so expect some more long matches there! Since Wimbledon has had quite a few marathon matches over the years, they have recently switched from the no tiebreak rule to playing a tiebreak at 12-12.
How Set Scoring Works
Each set itself can vary greatly in length. Since the winner of the set is the first to 6 games, a set can range from 6-0 to 6-6 and a deciding tiebreak. Usually a set lasts around 40 minutes but it isn’t uncommon to see them as short as 20 minutes or lasting well over an hour.
Changes in Technology
Due to improvements in technology, players are able to hit the ball much harder and with more spin than they used to. This means it’s generally more risky to come into the net and play more aggresively becasue unless you hit a great shot, your opponent is likely to hit a winner past you. This means you see more baseline rallies that go on for a long time. If you look at the longest matches, you will see that most of them are fairly recent.
Some players prefer a more defensive style and tend to stay back and play consistent tennis to wear their opponent down. Matches with one or more of these players generally last longer. Others prefer to play more aggresively with a high risk, high reward style of play. Generally, matches with these players are shorter due to the shorter points, but this isn’t always the case!
Funnily enough, both John Isner and Nicolás Mahut who competed in the longest match of all time both have a more aggressive style with big serves and like to finish the point early. The games themselves weren’t particularly long in this match, but they were both serving so well that neither could break the other, hence the crazy scoreline.
The court surface can have an affect on the length of a match too. On a clay court, the ball tends to sit up and travel slower after the bounce making it hard to play a winning shot. On a grass court, the ball skids through very quickly making it much easier to hit a winner. You tend to see longer points on a clay court, shorter points on a grass court, and hard courts sit somewhere in the middle.
Difference In Player’s Skill
If one player is much better than their opponent, you’re likely to see a much shorter match with a scoreline of something like 6-1, 6-1. If the players are more evenly matched, you’re likely to see a closer scoreline of something like 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. The first match has a total of 14 games and the second match has a total of 31 games. So quite a difference!
Is There a Time Limit on Tennis Matches?
There is no time limit on tennis matches (as we could see from that 11 hour Wimbledon match in 2010!), but there have been rule changes to bring down the length of tennis matches. For example all grand slams except the French Open now have a tiebreak to decide the final set.