The Challenge of Estimating the Length of a Tennis Match


Binta Robinson is an attorney with a focus on special education law. Outside of her law practice, Binta Robinson stays physically active through squash and tennis.

Estimating the length of a tennis match can be difficult. Unlike sports such as soccer and American football, the rules of tennis involve no time constraints, other than the amount of time players are allotted between points and on changeovers. Players are required to win six games in a set, but due to the nature of advantage scoring, a game can consist of four points or 20 or more points, lasting anywhere from just over a minute to 15 minutes or longer. The longest game in the history of tennis included 37 deuces and nearly 80 total points.

The issue of estimating the length of a tennis match is further compounded by the fact that the parameters of a match can change from one venue to the next. Most matches on the men’s and women’s tours are played in a best-of-three-set format. However, a number of men’s events are played as best-of-five-set tournaments. In 2014, a best-of-three-set match at the Miami Open between Jarkko Nieminen and Bernard Tomic lasted just 28 minutes. On the other hand, John Isner won the longest match in tennis history at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, defeating Nicolas Mahut over five sets in a match that lasted 11 hours and five minutes.

The unpredictability regarding the length of a tennis match is best exemplified by a study conducted at the 2010 US Open. Based on a sample of 117 matches, the average time of a best-of-five-set match was two hours and 16 minutes. However, only 51 percent of matches finished within 30 minutes of this average, and just 79 percent were completed within 60 minutes of this time.