5 April 2019

The race to the finish line... when is it legitimate to shorten a match or play a match tiebreak? Your questions answered

Even the Olympics are doing it - match tiebreaks for the doubles and thee-set finals for the men - but how does "short format" work in Local Tennis Leagues? When time is tight speeding up a match can make sense but sometimes it can make a win less valuable in determining group rankings, or even make the match invalid. Here's how to make sure you don't get it wrong!

Blaming the "congested schedule" at the Rio Olympics, this week the ITF announced major changes to the competition format for the the Tokyo games. That makes the Olympics the latest in a longish line of tennis events to shorten matches - the days of five set thrillers are truly numbered. Local Tennis Leagues similarly allows short format matches in certain leagues and match tiebreaks to shorten matches...

Short format matches

Local Tennis Leagues employs its own Short Format for specific leagues. For example, players in Hyde Park in London and Craiglockhart in Edinburgh may play shortened matches.

Our short format is explained here. Basically it allows for two shortened sets to be played, followed by a match tiebreak should the score reach one set all.

The format is primarily employed where court time is scarce and is intended to allow a match to be completed in an hour.

In all short format approved leagues, long format (conventional) matches may be played if both players agree.

Things to note:

  • Just as in a normal set, a short set (played to 4 games) is won when the score is two games clear. 4-2 is a winning margin, as is 5-3, but 4-3 isn't!
  • At 4 games all in a set, the next game is sudden death (a set tiebreak is not played)
  • At one set all, a match tiebreak (to 10 points) is played to decide the match
  • If players accidentally play a final short set (at one short set all) the score is valid (on the principle that the players have made the match more "difficult" rather than easier).
  • You can see if a league approves short format by looking under the "How it Works" tab on the individual league pages.

Match tiebreaks

Match tiebreaks, played when a match reaches one set all, are often useful as a way to bring a match to a conclusion when time is tight. They have a place in all rounds of all our leagues, but there are important restrictions about their use in long format (best of three conventional set) leagues.

Match tiebreak in a short format league: this is fully valid (see above) and will generate points for sets won in the normal way. Matches completed in this way also count toward bonus points and do not disadvantage a player tied on points at the end of a round.

Match tiebreak in doubles match: this is allowed across all our doubles rounds and will generate points for sets won in the normal way. Getting four people on court is tough - getting them together again to complete a match that has run out of time is harder still. Allowing match tiebreaks (a regular part of the doubles pro game) acknowledges this! Matches completed in this way also count toward bonus points and do not disadvantage a team tied on points at the end of a round.

Match tiebreak in a long (normal) format match: Match tiebreaks are allowed to decide a match tied at a set all. However, acknowledging that the majority of our players in long format singles matches want to play best of three tiebreak sets and that this is the official format, matches finished in this way do not count toward bonus points. While sometimes controversial, this rule reflects feedback from all players and is a compromise that recognises the need on occasion to find a way of completing a match more quickly while not diminishing the efforts of players who elect to finish a match at a later date (post the round midpoint) with a full third set. The takeaway, if this worries you, is to limit your match tiebreaks to matches played after the midpoint of a round when you are battling to complete all your outstanding matches.

Finally, if players are tied on points at the end of the round and can not be separated by their head to head record, or failing that deduction of points for walkover wins and failing that the deduction of bonus points, matches won by a match tiebreak will be deemed to have less weight (in order to break the tie)


Other (and strange) formats

Tennis being tennis, we do occasionally see other formats played. Usually our score reporting forms will give you a good steer about what is acceptable and what is not. As a rule of thumb, all our match formats have to generate a variation on the best of three sets (with a match tiebreak counting as the third set). If you are unsure about how to enter a score or think you may have played an illegal format, let us know and we will do our best to help. Bear in mind:

  • Playing a short format match in a long (normal) format league will probably mean we ask you to complete the match in the recognised format aggregating the games won so far to create a valid score. A 4-2, 4-1 match would be picked up at, say,  6-2, 2-1 TBC