I'm watching the Federer-Roddick match in Miami.

Roddick served at 5-6 in the first set. He ended up serving out the tiebreak, 7 points to 4. He then opened the second set on serve.

How do they determine which player serves in the first game of the next set after a tiebreaker?

4 Answers 4


According to the Tennis for Dummies cheatsheet:

When tennis players win six games each, they generally play a tiebreaker to decide the winner of the set. (Tennis rules governing tiebreakers differ for team tennis and for the Wimbledon Championship and may differ for local tournaments as well.) If you're playing a tiebreaker, follow these steps:

  • The player due to serve the 13th game serves the first point into her opponent's deuce court.
  • After the first serve, the serve goes over to the other player, who then serves the next two points, serving first into the ad court and then into the deuce court.
  • After the third point, the players alternate, serving two points each — always beginning on the ad court.
  • After the first six points are played, no matter what the score is, the players change ends (and continue to do so after every other six-point span) until one player wins at least seven points with a margin of two points.

The player who serves the last game of the set before the tiebreaker serves the first game of the new set following the tiebreaker.


The answer requires knowing only 1 piece of information: who served first in the set that went to the tiebreak? The other player will always serve first in the next set.
Why? Connect 2 simple facts.

Fact 1) The player that served first in this set will necessarily be the first to serve in the tiebreak.
Fact 2) The player that serves first in the tiebreak, irrespective of the tiebreaker outcome, will return (i.e. NOT serve) in the first game of the next set.

Combining fact 1 and 2: If you serve first in a set that goes to a tiebreak, your opponent will ALWAYS serve first in the next set.

KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid
A lot of other explanations make it so confusing. It's easy: The player that serves first in a set that goes to tiebreak, will never serve first in the next set. The outcome of the tiebreak has nothing to do with this. You only need to know who served first in the set that went to a tiebreak to know who will serve first in the next set. It is always the OTHER player, always.

Some people ask why fact 2 is true, which is an entirely different question. But it is worth addressing.

A simple rule to remember is that Players can never serve in consecutive games. Starting at 0-0, once you get to 6-6, it is necessarily the turn of the player who served first in the set to then serve first in the tiebreak. And since the tiebreak is considered a service game in-and-of-itself, and is served first by the same player who served first in the set, the next game after the tiebreak is the first game of the next set. And this must be served by the other player.


The player who served the last game before the tie break will serve the first game of the next set.

From the ITF 2017 Rules of Tennis book:

The player whose turn it is to serve shall serve the first point of the tie-break game. (...)

The player/team whose turn it was to serve first in the tie-break game shall be the receiver in the first game of the following set.

An easy way remember is to think of the tie-breaker as an additional game in the set, where the "server" is the player who serves the first point. Therefore the "receiver" of the tie break should serve the next game.


The answers above are true specific to singles, and are true for doubles if you substitute 'team' for 'player". The tiebreaker itself is scored as a game so the set with the tie-breaker ends at 7-6 - so whichever player or team starts the tiebreaker is considered to have served that game from a scoring perspective. The player or team that serves the last game prior to the tiebreaker will serve first in the following set.

Interestingly once a set starts players on each team must alternate who serves, but at the beginning of a new set, the order resets, so you could have either the player that served the last game prior to the tiebreaker serve the first game after OR his or her partner.

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