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I ask this because in 2018 John Isner and Kevin Anderson had a set that latest for 50 games in one set. And in 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut had a set lasting 138 games.

I understand that to win a set you must win by 2 games. So is it possible for a tennis match to actually last forever if the winner of a game kept alternating each game? Or is there a time/score limit where the officials call it?

  • Wikipedia article Longest tennis match records (current revision) says that "French Open remains the only Grand Slam to use the advantage set rules in the final set, which allows for an indefinite number of games until one player is ahead by two." The phrasing there suggest that there is no limit - I hope that somebody can find a more official source. – Martin Jul 2 at 6:49
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    Theoretically even a single point could last forever, if players continue a rally without missing any shots; but at some point they'd probably drop from exhaustion! A point can last indefinitely with an ongoing rally, a game can last indefinitely by continually returning to deuce, and a set can last forever by never having a player two games ahead (unless playing with tie break rules). – Showsni Jul 2 at 15:14
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Depending on the competition it is very well possible to have a match last forever. Tennis itself has no rules about a time limit. See the longest match ever played, which took 11 hours in total. Matches without a tie break in the last set are prone to take longest.

I can't verify the rules for every competition, so here are a few majors:

In Wimbledon they've changed the rules to have a tie break after a score of 12-12 in the last set, so it will be a lot harder to have matches lasting that long.

The Australian Open followed Wimbledon by introducing a final set tie break.

That leaves the French Open as the last Grand Slam without a tie break in the final set and they seem to keep it that way.

(The US Open already have a tie break rule)

  • So the tie break means that they win by two games? Wasn't that the rule anyway or have I misunderstood the tie break rule? – JackU Jul 2 at 8:17
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    A tie break will (usually) be played at 6-6 and the winner of that one wins the set 7-6. – dly Jul 2 at 8:28
  • Worth pointing out what a tie-break is; it's just another game in which the first player to get to 7, and be at least two points ahead, wins. If it gets to 6-6, it's the first player to get two points ahead who wins. This two-points ahead rule means that a tie-break itself can go on indefinitely. – Oscar Bravo Jul 3 at 7:26
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    Matches without a tie break in the last set are prone to take longest. - this doesn't exclude matches with a tie break, it merely means that they're usually not lasting that long. Theoretically, every point could last forever. – dly Jul 3 at 7:33
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The answer depends on the scoring system used. If traditional scoring is used, then a single GAME can last forever if the score keeps going to deuce (i.e. a game is won by the first player to win four points, with a two point advantage).

A single set could last forever if tiebreaker scoring is not used (see Isner-Mahut match).

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