How Long Do Tennis Matches Last?
Tennis matches tend to take a very long time to complete. Whether it is at the highest professional level or simply a local club match, the scoring system is such that there can be a lot of breaks in momentum and matches can seemingly go on forever.
Whilst this may seem fun when you are in the moment playing a match, it can actually cause a number of issues.
First of all, not knowing exactly when a match will finish makes booking courts difficult at the recreational level. This is even more of an issue at the professional level, as it is difficult for TV companies to schedule programming around matches that they have no idea how long will last.
Also, the viewership for a 5 hour match may be limited to just hardcore tennis fans rather than a mass audience, which may limit the advertising revenue generated.
This ironically can limit the amount that tennis players can earn, especially compared to popular timed sports like soccer or basketball. So, despite the fact that as tennis fans we love watching long, dramatic matches, having a bit more predictability in the sport could actually do it some favours.
There have been a few measures introduced to the professional game to try and speed matches up that have started to trickle down to the grassroots level.
The introduction of the Fast4 scoring system shortens the game and has been introduced to premier events such as the Next Gen ATP Finals. Sets are played to 4 rather than 6 and tie breaks are played to 5 rather than 7. There are also no lets, so if the ball comes off the net tape on a serve and lands in the service box, it is in play!
Even the now very common championship tie break was not always a permanent fixture in the world of tennis. It is now used commonly on the professional doubles circuit and at club level all around the world, speeding up matches by not playing a full deciding set.
The professional circuit has also now introduced a shot clock to keep players honest between points. At first this was a controversial move, as it was argued that some discretion is needed when players have engaged in a long, gruelling point as this takes a lot more time to recover from than hitting an ace for example.
But, it seems to have integrated well into the tennis world and is now popular amongst both fans and the players themselves.
We have established that tennis matches can sometimes take a long time and given some insight into how the powers that be have tried to shorten them, but why do tennis matches last so long in the first place? Well, let’s find out!
What Influences the Length of a Tennis Match?
There are a number of factors that influence how long a tennis match will ultimately last. From opponents, to court surfaces to weather conditions. These all play into whether a match will last 6 hours or under an hour!
Of course, the main thing determining how long a tennis match will last is how evenly matched the two players are! This can either create a war of attrition or an absolute white wash.
You sometimes see even a very highly ranked player who is not performing their best on the day playing a lower ranked player who has nothing to lose and the match can become an absolute classic.
Some examples that come to mind include Djokovic vs Simon at the 2016 Australian Open, where Novak hit over 100 unforced errors and still managed to win the match in 5 topsy turvy sets. When Federer played Falla at the 2010 Wimbledon championships and found himself 2 sets down, he managed to turn it around in the end but the lowly ranked lefty gave him a real fright.
Sometimes, it’s only the form of the player on the day rather than their ranking or reputation that determines the outcome of a match.
Weather is something that has played a major role in extending tennis matches throughout history. Rain delays have seen matches span over multiple days, particularly at grand slam level where the schedules are so tightly packed.
Even heavy wind can influence the length of a match. In these testing conditions players will tend to play with a lot more margin for error, hitting the ball higher over the net and at a slower pace than in calm conditions. This naturally increases the rally length and ultimately the duration of the match.
The court surface a match is played on tends to impact the average length of the match.
For example, a very fast surface such as indoor hard courts or grass courts will tend to favour shorter points, as the ball tends to bounce lower and move more quickly through the court.
This favours players that like to take the ball early, hit flatter and have big serves, big groundstrokes and like to come into the net to finish the points. This naturally shortens the points on these types of surfaces.
By contrast, a very slow surface such as clay tends to extend the rally lengths due to the ball bouncing higher and moving through the court less quickly, players being able to cover more ground by sliding around the court and playing with more margin for error. This of course extends the length of a match compared to playing on a grass court for example.
The Longest and Shortest Matches of All Time
With all that being said, the matchup between the opponents is the main factor determining the length of a tennis match. Regardless of the surface or weather conditions, if there is a miss-match in playing level on the day a match can be over very quickly, even if it is played on a slow clay court. And, the longest match of all time was actually contested on the grass courts of Wimbledon!
So, let’s explore some of the longest and shortest professional matches of all time!
Isner vs Mahut Wimbledon 2010
The classic marathon that captivated sports fans around the world in 2010 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut remains one of the most unbelievable sporting spectacles ever. The match lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes and finished 70-68 in the final set. Isner ultimately took the win, but both players were presented with trophies at the end of the match to mark the historic event.
Berdych/Rosol vs Wawrinka/Chiudinelli Davis Cup 2013
Another insanely long match occurred during the 2013 Davis Cup between Tomas Berdych and Lucas Rosol of the Czech Republic and Stan Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland. This doubles match lasted 7 hours and 1 minute and was an absolutely thrilling encounter. The Czechs won the match 24-22 in the 5th set.
Doubles matches don’t tend to last as long due to the points being quicker and often finished at the net, so this match lasting as long as 7 hours is all the more impressive!
Anderson vs Isner Wimbledon 2016
Another marathon match that took place on the grass courts of Wimbledon was contested between Kevin Anderson and John Isner in the semi-finals of the 2016 tournament. These two big servers battled out an absolute epic that left the crowd on their feet, the South African Anderson eventually took the win 26-24 in the 5th set after 6 hours and 36 minutes.
Graff vs Zvereva French Open 1988
On the other end of the spectrum, tennis legend Steffi Graff won the French Open final in 1988 by defeating Natasha Zvereva 6-0 6-0 in the final in just 34 minutes. This was the first and only double bagel in a grand slam final and showed just how dominant Steffi could be!
Harper vs Sandiford Surrey Open 1946
One of the shortest matches ever contested was between Harper and Sandiford at the 1946 Surrey Open, where Harper took the match in 18 minutes! Harper lost just 1 point on his way to the 6-0 6-0 victory.
Nieminen vs Tomic Miami Masters 2014
A more modern match that was a complete white wash was between Nieminen and Tomic at the 2014 Miami masters, where the Fin took the match 6-0 6-1 in just 28 minutes. The Aussie Tomic is known for tanking matches at times but this was a new low for him.
Tennis matches can massively vary in length depending on how well matched the opponents are, the court surface and playing conditions.
The fact that a match can be completed in under an hour or over 10 hours makes it difficult to schedule TV programming and even book tennis courts at your local club. At the professional level matches can last many hours with so much prize money, ranking points and prestige on the line.
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