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Whats The Score Part 2

The dynamics of the game score
By: Peter D. McCraw

This article is the second in a two part series on the Score in tennis.  In this article I will look at the dynamics of the game score within each set and reveal some simple tactics you can use when playing tiebreakers.

In the first article I discussed that a common mistake players make when playing a match is they believe the majority of points have equal weighting.  Initially it appeared there were only two types of points - game points and the rest.

I revealed that the essence of each game comes down to the first three points.  First of all, you must be aware of the 4 setup points and when they arise in each game.  Then you must understand the significance of the 4th point and use it to grab the first strategic advantage over your opponent.

Like the points within a game, there are a number of games within each set that have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a match.  Let’s see what they are.

First 3 Games
The first three games within each set can dictate the momentum of the match for either player.  It’s important that you are aware of this and use them to find some rhythm and settle into the set.  You must be warmed up and ready to play from the first point of the match. 

Setup Games
Like the setup points within a game, there are a number of setup games within each set.  A setup game is any game that moves you to within one game of the set or match.  Setup games occur at 4/0, 4/1, 4/2, 4/3, 4/4, 5/5.   

The 7th Game
You often hear players and TV commentators regard the 7th game of the set as the most important, but this is not always the case

If the games go on serve for the first 6 games the score is 3-3.  Now the 7th game will give either player a 4-3 lead. In this instance the setup game falls on the 8th game because there have been no breaks of serve.

If a break of serve occurs in the 7th game, the setup game still occurs on the 8th.  So can you see that if no breaks of serve occur for the first 6 games (3-3), the 8th game becomes the most important game of the set, not the 7th.

If one break of serve occurs within the first 6 games the score will be 4-2 or 2-4.  In this case the 7th game of the set now becomes the most important because it will give one player a setup game for the first time and a chance to go to a 5-2 lead.

If two breaks of serve occur within the first 5 games the score will be 4-1 or 5-0.  In this case the 6th game of the set becomes the most important because it will give one player a setup game (5-1), or a chance to win the set for the first time.

 So depending on the number of service breaks within each set, the 6th, 7th or 8th games become the most important because they give one player a setup game, or a chance to win the set for the first time.

You must realise that depending on the score the most important game of the set is not always the 7th.

Super Setup Points
If you take the setup points within each game, and combine them with the setup games within each set, you should begin to see the importance of certain points in determining the outcome of a match.  You can call these super setup points!

Super setup points will occur quite frequently because there are 4 setup points within each game and 6 setup games within each set.  The key is to recognise when they occur.

A super setup point could potentially occur on the 3rd point of the 6th game.  If  the score is 4-1, and 30-0, you are 1 point away from a game point opportunity and two points away from a setup game at 5-1.  A more important situation would be 4-3, 30-30, or 4-4 and deuce. You can think of it as the ‘4th Point & 6th Game Rules’.  That is, every point played from the 4th in each game and every game played from the 6th in each set. 

Your aim is to be in a position to capitalise on the 4th point advantage within each game and the 6th game advantage within each set.  Let’s see why.

The 4th point represents the first opportunity you have to gain a strategic advantage over your opponent.  Also, every point played after the 4th will give either player a setup point, or a chance to win the game.

The 6th game represents the first setup game opportunity you have if two breaks of serve have occurred within the set.  Also, every game played after the 6th could potentially give one player a setup game or a chance to win the set.

The Tiebreaker
Having looked at the game and set score within a match, I will discuss the dynamics of the tiebreaker, and what you can do to improve your chances of winning the set.

The tiebreaker is very similar to a set.  The first three points are dictate points and a setup point occurs when one player reaches a score of five.
Generally the 7th point is the most important because either player will have a setup point, set point, or ‘set point opportunity’ for the first time.  The 7th point is easy to remember because it is the first point played after you change ends.

The dynamics of the tiebreaker confuses most players.  Because the  serve changes so quickly and each point played after the first begins on the ‘ad’ court, it is very easy to get distracted from your game plan.
There are however a number of ‘rules’ you can follow to increase your chances of winning the tiebreaker. 

Nothing New Rule
The Nothing New Rule implies that you shouldn’t change your game plan for the tiebreaker unless forced to.  Adopt the same strategy and resist the temptation to hit any new shots for the first time in the match. 

The First Three Points Rule
Traditionally the first three points get the least attention from your opponent.  They play them like a regular game and fail to realise how important they are.  So take advantage of the first three points and set out to gain an early break over your opponent.

Using the ‘4th Point & 6th Game Rules,’ will help you recognise when the important points and games arise.

Your aim in the tiebreaker is to play steady high percentage tennis and use the dictate, setup and 7th point advantages to maximise your chance of winning the set.
The next time you are playing a match, stop for a moment, take note of the score and evaluate the importance it may have on determining the outcome of the game or set. 

Finally, remember that in future there is no excuse for asking your opponent, “What’s the score?”

Good luck,

Peter D. McCraw is an expert in world-class athlete development.  He founded the ‘CBD Model – Competitive Based Development for Tennis.  He is a coach educator, leading tennis researcher and world-renowned developmental coach.  Peter is Australian born and currently the National Director of Coaching for Tennis New Zealand.  He makes regular trips to the UK and is available for club consultancies, player assessments and coach mentoring.  His website is

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