Does Tennis Have A Time Limit? (All Time Rules Explained)

In most sports, a match lasts a maximum number of minutes. So the players and spectators know in advance exactly how long the match will last. In tennis, this is different. But does tennis have a time limit?

In tennis, there is no time limit on the duration of a match. Theoretically, a tennis match can therefore last forever. However, there are time rules within tennis to ensure that matches are relatively short. These include the time limit for serving, changeovers, medical time outs, and toilet breaks.

Even though there is no time limit for a tennis match, there are several time rules that a player must consider during a match. If these rules are violated, the player will be penalized. This article explains what rules these are and what penalties can be given.

Is There a Time Limit in a Tennis Match?

Tennis is one of a few sports that doesn’t have a time limit. As draws are not allowed, the players need to keep playing until there is a winner, which means matches can go on for a very long time. 

To win a game in tennis, you need to win at least two more points than your opponent. If it goes to deuce (40-40), you must win two points in a row.

This means that an individual game can theoretically go on indefinitely if the players are extremely evenly matched, and neither can win two points in a row.  

However, there are other time limits that a player needs to abide by. This is to ensure that the matches don’t go on for too long.

It is also so that one player cannot get an advantage over the other player by taking lots of time to recover between points, for example. 

So, can a tennis match go on forever?

Not only can a tennis match potentially go on forever, so could every individual game. There really is no time limit for a tennis match.

Is There a Time Limit to Serve in Tennis?

To make sure that players don’t take too long to serve, there is indeed a time limit to serve in tennis. This limit is twenty-five seconds from the end of the previous point.

The player must start their motion to serve within that time but don’t need to make contact with the ball. 

Until recently, the umpire would monitor the twenty-five seconds on their tablet screen, making it very difficult for players to know how long they were taking.

Since 2018, there is now a clock on the court that players and spectators can see. 

Between games, the time limit is extended to 30 seconds, meaning players get an extra five seconds for the change of serve.

Between changeovers (switching sides), they are allowed 90 seconds, which includes drinking water. Between sets, they are allowed 3 minutes, as well as opportunities for other breaks that we will cover later in the article.  

If players want to serve quicker than the time limit, they are allowed.

As soon as the server is ready, the returner is expected to be as well, so the server is always the one to set the pace. 

Is There a Time Limit on Toilet Breaks in Tennis?

There is a time limit on toilet breaks in tennis, and it is three minutes. This toilet break can only be taken in between sets to make sure that one player can’t break his opponent’s rhythm with a toilet break. 

Players can also choose to change their outfits during a toilet break. The tennis rules allow two minutes for this change of attire.

The change of attire can exclusively be done during a toilet break. The time limit begins when the player arrives at the bathroom. Players get a maximum of one toilet break per match. 

These new rules were introduced at the beginning of the 2022 season.

Players used to be allowed two breaks during five-set matches, and there used to be no time limit; it had to be a “reasonable” amount of time. What that meant was not clearly defined. 

The change came after a lot of debate over the rules after players were thought to be using the toilet break tactically.

Stefanos Tsitsipas was at the center of this debate after being booed for taking long and repeated toilets breaks at the US Open.

However, tactical toilet breaks have existed in tennis since toilet breaks have existed in tennis.

How Long is a Medical Time Out in Tennis?

A player is allowed to call for a medical timeout if they have a problem or an injury during the match. The player is then treated by a doctor and either keeps playing or is forced to withdraw. 

There are two parts of the medical timeout: evaluation and treatment

As of right now, the rules state that each player is allowed two timeouts per match. The maximum time for the timeout is fifteen minutes for both evaluation and treatment.

The treatment part is supposed to be a maximum of three minutes, but umpires often extend it if necessary. 

However, the ATP has declared that a rule change will eventually take place, although they have not announced the dates. This will allow for one medical time out of three minutes per match for each player. 

Players will also only be able to call for a medical timeout during changeovers or between sets.

If they are unable to play the remaining points without receiving treatment, then they must forfeit those points. 

These changes are also in order to stop medical timeouts for tactical reasons.

They should not be used to clear your mind or break your opponent’s rhythm but instead for necessary medical issues.

What is The Penalty For a Time Violation in Tennis?

A time violation is considered to be a code violation (such as racket abuse or unsportsmanlike conduct). This means that it is punished in the same way. 

For the first violation, the player receives a warning. After the second, the player will be penalized with a loss point, and after the third, the game will be lost.

The umpire can also decide on the punishment. If the player continues with their code violations, the umpire can disqualify them. 

As they are considered code violations, each violation doesn’t need to be for the same reason for the penalty.

This means that if a player abuses their racket, they will be given a warning. If they then take too much time, they will be deducted a point, despite it being their first time violation.

What's The Longest Tennis Match Ever Played?

At this point, you must be wondering what the longest tennis match ever played was. Thirteen matches in the history of tennis have taken longer than six hours.

A doubles game at the Davis Cup went on for 7 hours and 1 minute, making it the second-longest ever match. 

However, the number one spot was much longer than any other match in history.

In the first round of Wimbledon in 2010, the American John Isner beat Nicolas Mahut in an absolutely incredible 11 hours and five minutes

The final score was 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68!

That is a whopping 183 games, more than fifty more than the second-longest match in games. 

The match took place over three days, suspended each day because of darkness. The score was so surprising that even the scoreboard couldn’t believe it; it stopped working at 47-47 in the final set! 

On top of that, it is a record that will almost definitely never be broken.

Mahut and Isner’s record will stand for a very long time. Fifth sets in Grand Slams can only go up to a maximum of 12-13, whereas they were unlimited before.

So it is still theoretically possible in an incredibly long match, but it is unlikely.

Conclusion

So, as we have seen, there is no general time limit in a tennis match.

There are, however, more specific time limits to ensure that players don’t take too long, namely the serve time limit, the medical timeout, and the toilet break.

Theoretically, though, a tennis match could go on forever and ever. Practically, that won’t happen, although it must have felt like an eternity for Nicolas Mahut and John Isner

Brian Henderson

I am what you might call a true tennis fanatic. When I am not on the tennis court teaching or playing myself, I am probably writing an informative article about tennis. My goal is to get as many people as possible excited and informed about tennis.
Published: 
March 6, 2022

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Published: March 6, 2022