Bagel In Tennis: Meaning, Origin & Examples

One of the best things about being a tennis player is getting a matchup where seemingly nothing goes wrong. A player is landing all of their shots and running away with a victory from the very beginning. After piling up game after game, the lopsided score leads to a 6-0 victory in the set.

Winning a set 6-0 means that a person dominated from beginning to end. In tennis terminology, that can be called a few different things, but bagel seems to stay at the top of the list.

What is the Definition of a Bagel in Tennis? Simply put, a bagel in tennis is any set that ends 6-0. It’s called a bagel because the zero looks like a bagel. It’s the largest margin of victory a player can win a set by.

The Origin of Bagels in Tennis

There’s a lot of slang in all types of sports, and tennis is no different. When people look for ways to describe a blowout victory, saying something besides zero for the score seems to make sense.

Bagels and donuts are the two words mostly used for a zero. A “breadstick” is a term commonly used for a score that is 6-1. Both of the scores are blowout victories in a sense, so it can be a bit demeaning to say it to unknown people. Think of handing out bagels and donuts as a way to get under the skin of a friend by using slang terms.

What is a Double Bagel in Tennis?

A double bagel is a score of 6–0, 6–0, meaning that the player won all six games in a row twice to win the match. It is rare, but still occurs on occasion at high levels of play. Getting one bagel is tough to deal with, but two in the same match usually means the opposition never had a chance.

In a best-of-five match, people don’t normally say that they “double-bageled” someone because they played at least three sets. There is such a thing as a triple bagel (see below), but that is one of the rare feats in the sport.

Winning two bagels sets, and the other one 6-3 for example, doesn’t usually get the slang terms for zero used when talking about the full match.

How Common is a Triple Bagel in Professional Tennis?

Since only the men play best-of-five matches at Grand Slam events, triple bagels don’t even have that many opportunities to occur. Statistics are hard to come by for every single professional match in tennis, so looking at just Grand Slam events show that five triple bagels have occurred since 1968.

Surprisingly, three of those five triple bagels came during the 1987 season. All-time greats like Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl have triple bagels to her name.

It pretty much requires one of the best tennis players in the world to win at this level of dominance, since everyone else would struggle to find the consistency to win 18 games in a row.

What is a Golden Set in Tennis?

A very rare type of bagel a player can pull off is a golden set. Not only does this set end 6-0, but the winner does not lose a single point. That means the winning player wins all 24 points in a set to cruise to victory. These sets go extremely quickly since no deuce games or anything are holding up the set. Even if there are some long rallies, it’s still not going to add that much time to everything.

Who is the All-Time Leader in Bagels?

Jimmy Connors holds the all-time record for most bagels in a professional career during the Open Era. He dished out 197 bagels throughout his career, including 44 at Grand Slam tournaments.

On the women’s side, Chris Everet is known as the all-time leader in several categories for bagels. This includes 106 bagels in Grand Slam tournaments, and 13 double bagels. She also had the first two career double bagel wins over former number one ranked players. This came in back-to-back years, as she beat Martina Navratilova in 1981 and Tracy Austin in 1982.

The disparity between the best players in the world and others playing in tournaments decades ago was much greater.

That’s why players like Bill Tilden and Josiah Richie have the records for not only bagels, but double and triple bagels. Tilden’s record of 479 bagels is more than double the amount of the modern-day record.

What Surface Do Players Dish Out the Most Bagels On?

A study took place a few years ago on the number of bagels happening in men’s tennis at Grand Slam tournaments a few years ago in the modern game. The study showed that there were nearly twice as many bagels at the French Open, U.S. Open, and Australian Open compared to Wimbledon in a given year.

Perhaps the biggest reason why this is the case is that it’s easier for the server to hold serve on grass courts compared to clay and hard. Balls can skid on the grass and have a pretty low bounce, even if the server isn’t particularly powerful. This leads to holding a service game at least once in a set and staying in it.

The overall unfamiliarity with grass courts also plays a bit of a factor. Even the best players don’t feel as confident on grass, especially earlier in the tournament when it’s not necessarily broken in. Since most bagels happen at the start of a tournament, the underdog players have a better chance of stealing some games.

Are Bagels Fading Away?

The main reason why bagels don’t happen nearly as much in today’s game is that there’s more parity from top to bottom. Tennis has quite a bit of depth on both sides, so top professional players are going up against subpar competition even in the first round of a tournament.

Modern technology also plays a role, as a big serve can win at least one game in many cases. Most professional players have a server that can turn into a weapon if they locate it correctly. Holding serves just once prevents a bagel from occurring. 

Do Players Actively Avoid Bagels?

Most players will try to do whatever they can to avoid getting a bagel in a match. The only exception might be in a best-of-five match at a Grand Slam tournament, as they will want to put that set behind them instead of potentially battling back. It helps them conserve energy to just let a set go and try for the next one.

Players will try to do whatever they can to win a game later in a set to save some dignity in most cases. This might include changing up returning or serving tactics. Players also will throw in more rushes to the net to try to catch the opponent by surprise.

Final Thoughts on Bagels and Tennis

For the best opportunity to see a bagel in tennis, pay attention to the early rounds of tennis tournaments. While there are some bagels occasionally against two outstanding players, there’s usually quite a bit of gap between rankings.

Even the best players in the world have suffered a bagel or two in their career. It can be demoralizing at the time, but tennis players are strong enough to bounce back.

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