How to Approach a Third Set in Tennis (And Win)

Competing in tennis brings a whole new dimension to the game. Playing tennis matches is a great way to hone your skills under pressure, get the competitive juices flowing and and see what you’re made of.

However, you may well find yourself in a third set battle with a tough opponent, and this requires a lot of mental strength, tactical awareness and grit to get the job done.

So, if you have found yourself in this situation in the past, not knowing how to approach it, don’t worry. We are here to show you how to approach a third set in tennis and come out on the winning side!

Why it is Important to Learn How to Compete in Tennis

Understanding how to win tennis matches is a very important skill, but something that many recreational players confuse with hitting great forehands and backhands. While having great technique and physicality play a major role in improving your tennis game, understanding the tactical and mental sides of tennis makes all the difference in competitive situations. 

There is a big difference between playing well in practice, or even practice matches and performing well under pressure in an official match. The nerves and expectations of wanting to win (or being afraid of losing), can massively impact your game in ways that you may not expect. 

This is especially true in the third set of a tennis match when both you and your opponent are closely matched. There are a number of ways in which to arrive at a third set. 

You may well have been up in the first set and let your opponent back into the match. Or you could have come back yourself and not even expected to be in this position.

Either way, the emotional rollercoaster of a third set can be quite difficult for many tennis players, especially those without a lot of experience competing on the tennis court. 

So, follow these simple steps to improve your chances of winning the next time you find yourself in a third set encounter.

Top Tips to Help You Win Third Sets

So, here are a number of top tips to help you get the better of your opponent in the latter stages of a tennis match! 

Try to Start Strong

This may sound like an obvious point, but starting a third set strong takes a lot of mental effort. 

For example, if you won the first set of the match and have just lost a close second set before going into the third set, you can easily feel deflated and allow your opponent to take the upper hand. They will be riding the momentum of winning the second set and on a high, so will likely be more confident than you at this time. 

However, if you lost the first set and have just come back and won the second set, you may have a tendency to relax slightly and take your foot off the gas at the beginning of the third set. The danger is you let your opponent back into the lead and undo all your good work! 

Therefore, ensuring you put extra effort, focus and emphasis on the start of the third set will help you take the lead and get off on the right foot.

Remember What You’ve Done Well

Next, it can be easy to get down on yourself or overcomplicate things when entering a third set. The key to keeping things simple is to remember what you’ve done well so far and stick to the game plan. 

For example, suppose you are having a good serving day and your opponent is struggling with their backhand return. In that case, it is a good idea to continue serving into their backhand, especially in high-pressure moments like breakpoints. 

Remember, you are very unlikely to hit all of your shots perfectly on any given day, especially when you are under pressure in the third set of a competitive tennis match. So, stick to the winning formula and play to your strengths while trying to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses as much as possible.

Check Out The Tennis Bros Tactics Guide

The next step you can take to improve your chances of winning a deciding set is to check out The Tennis Bros Singles Tactics Guide. We have put together a comprehensive course to broaden your tactical awareness of tennis, focussing on patterns of play, recognizing your opponent’s weaknesses, and improving your strengths.

Our singles tactics guide will help you outsmart your opponents and stop you from losing easy points, by making your game plan incredibly clear. 

We have worked with master performance tennis coach Dave Ireland to put together one of the best tactical tennis courses online. Dave has a wealth of knowledge and experience both playing on the ATP world tour and coaching international-level junior players. 

So, check out our singles tactics course today!

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Try to Tire Out Your Opponent

If you are having a long, drawn-out tennis match that is entering a third set, it can be pretty tiring on the body. All of the physical and mental exertions can take their toll. However, it is also important to recognize your opponent will likely be tired too, so if you can play in such a way that tires them out even more, you’ll increase your chances of winning. 

Focus on hitting angled shots that move your opponent from side to side, as well as mixing things up by playing with variety. Get into a rhythm of moving your opponent around, so their legs tire out, and then tactically throw in a drop shot to keep them off balance and get them changing direction. 

This is a great way to put pressure on them and boost your chances of getting the win.

Focus on Doing the Basics Well

Again, this may sound like a simple strategy, but when you are under pressure and need to simplify your game plan, focusing on the basics is key. 

Aiming to hit with plenty of margin for error, with good net clearance to big targets time after time will slowly wear your opponent down both physically and mentally. It is difficult to beat someone who simply won’t miss, even if they aren’t hitting the lines or striking the ball amazingly. You’ll be amazed just how effective it is to put plenty of balls in the court, deep and with spin. 

Your opponent will find it very difficult to beat you if no matter how well they try to hit the ball, it just keeps coming back.

Slow Down in Pressure Moments

Another top tip to improve your chances of success when you are playing a decisive third set in a tennis match is just to slow down and take your time in high-pressure moments. 

Particularly when you are facing a breakpoint, in a tie break or down in the score, make sure to breathe, take your time between points, and concentrate on your game plan rather than the magnitude of the moment. 

This will help you remain calm and send the message to your opponent you are composed and ready to compete right up until the last point.

If Your Opponent is Playing Well, Hang With Them

You may well find that your opponent rushes out the gates and storms to an early lead in the third set, but don’t let this intimidate you.

Some players ride momentum better than others, and even if your opponent is playing well, if you can just try and keep the score close you are putting scoreboard pressure on them. 

Oftentimes, if you can just keep with your opponent, they may well feel the heat towards the end of the match and drop the ball, giving you the opportunity to strike.

Focus on the Process Rather than the Outcome

Finally, the age-old saying rings especially true when you are playing in the third set of a match and the emotions are running high.

Focusing on the process rather than the outcome will help you remain calm even when the tension is kicking in. 

This phrase means focusing on how you are going to try and win one point at a time from a tactical perspective, rather than fixating on how important it is to win that point. This mentality will help you reduce the pressure you feel before starting an important point in a high-pressure moment.


Overall, understanding how to approach a third set in tennis and win is a key skill if you want to compete at a high level. Sometimes, you’ll come up against tough opponents and not always bring your A-game to the court.

On days like these, understanding how to approach a third set in tennis with a winning mentality will give you the best chance possible to come out on top! 

For more free tips on how to improve your tactical approach to tennis and win more decisive third sets, check out these posts below: 

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