How Does Tennis Score Work? | Tennis Score Explained

In a tennis match, zero means love, so the tennis scoring system is indeed the oddest and strange scoring system than other sports. So, how does tennis score work?

Stick with us for a few minutes as we are going to explain the tennis scoring system in detail.

Once you understand how tennis score works, you will know that it is one of the most unique and interesting scoring systems.

For a beginner tennis player, this scoring system can be very confusing but once you get used to it, you will feel like a seasoned fan. However, if you are practicing alone you can keep the scoring simple.

Let’s dive into the detail without any further delay!

In this article, we will explain the tennis score system by first starting with a broader picture, and then we will dive into the details of each smaller picture so you can understand the tennis score system in no time.

Moreover, we will also explain the meaning of tennis score terms that you might have heard while being on the tennis court.

The Basics:

Tennis is one of the famous games which we play on a rectangular court by either two players (singles) or four players (doubles). By standing on opposite sides of the court, both players hit the ball back and forth with a tennis racquet.

While being on the tennis court, you might hear words such as ‘point’, ‘game’, ‘set’, and match.

What do they mean to you?

In simple words, points add up to the game, games add up to make a set, and sets add up to make the match. In this article, we have explained all these tennis terminologies in detail.

How does tennis score work?

How does tennis score work
How Tennis Scoring System Works

When you enter the court to play tennis against an opponent player, you’re going to play a match. Remember, it’s a match, not a game. So, if someone says he/she is playing a tennis game, it’s wrong. They are playing a match.

The tennis match consists of sets, games, and point values.

Normally, each match consists of 3 sets. But that is not the final rule, because some professional tennis tournaments like the US Open adds up to 5 sets in a match.

In a match of 3 sets, you must win at least 2 sets to win that whole match. And in a match of 5 sets, you must win at least 3 sets to win the match.

Now let’s dive into smaller pictures. Here we are referring a big picture to the match and smaller pictures to the sets and point values.

Generally, a set consists of a minimum of 6 games and each game consists of point values. A tennis player must win by 2 games. However, if the player ends up a tie at 6, then a tiebreaker game is played.

Now you might have this question in your mind “what is a tiebreaker in tennis?”. Don’t worry and stay with us, we will explain this as well in a bit.

Quick Recap:

  • When a tennis player plays against an opponent, it’s a match.
  • A match consists of 3 sets (in some cases 5 sets)
  • Each set consists of 6 games. A player wins a tennis set when he wins 6 games.
  • A tiebreaker game decides the winner when the player ends up a tie at 6.

By now, we assume that you understood the match and sets. Now let’s move to the game score.

Points in Tennis

Unlike other sports, we do not count tennis points as 1,2,3, rather we count them as 15, 30, 40.

So, what is the first point in a tennis score? It’s ‘Love’.

Yes, you have heard it right but it’s not the romantic one. The first point in the tennis scoring system is zero which we call ‘Love’.

So whenever the umpire announces love, don’t be confused, it means zero. We understand, by the time, you have this question in your mind “why tennis score 15 30 40?”.

We will address this question shortly along with the tennis score system origin. For now, just understand that this is how tennis score works.

Tennis Game Score

In a tennis match, each game comprises of a series of points.

The tennis game score starts from 0 and goes up to 40 but these are just four points (0,1,2,3). The starting point (0) is called “love”.

The player who wins at least 2 or more points over his opponent player, wins the game.

Here comes a little confusing part. 

In a tennis game, we do not recognize a point by its value rather we call it by a  specific name. For example, the first point is “love”(0) and the second point is 1 but we call it 15 which is the corresponding call of the second point.

Each point has a specific call. Here are all the points with their call values.

Number of Points WonSpecific Call
0Love
115
230
340
4Game
Tied ScoreAll
The server wins deuce pointAdvantage-In (Ad-in)
The opponent wins deuce pointAdvantage-out (Ad-out)

Here we recommend you give yourself a moment of relaxation because from now on we need your full attention so you can understand this scoring system deeply.

When the server player (the player who wins the toss and decides to serve first) acquires 3 points and the opponent player acquires only one point, then the score would be “40-15” according to the table above.

To make things easy, let’s suppose we have 2 tennis players John and Alfred.

John and Alfred came into the tennis court to play a tennis match. They flip a coin or spin the racquet and John won the toss.

Now John has the following options. John can:

  1. Choose to serve first.
  2. Choose to receive first.
  3. Decide the end of the court to start on. But in this case, the opponent player Alfred decides who will serve first. In other words, if one player chooses to serve first, then the other player chooses the side of the tennis court.
  4. Simply leave the choices to Alfred.

Suppose John has decided to serve first. Once John decides to serve, he will continue serving until the end of the game.

To perform the serve shot, John moves himself to the right side of the back of the court which we call the baseline.

Before serving, John will announce the score by saying his score first and then the score of opponent player Alfred.

For example, if John has a 0 point(love) and Alfred has 2 points(30 according to the corresponding cell from the above table), then John will announce this “love-30”.

Once John has served the shot, Alfred must return the ball right after exactly one bounce into any singles section part of Alfred’s court.

This is how tennis-serve is performed.

How Does Tennis-Point Work?

Every time, John decides to serve, he gets 2 tries. When John hits the tennis serve, the ball must go over the net and land into the service box of the opponent player Alfred.

Before Alfred can hit and return the ball to John, the ball must bounce once in the opposite service box. But if the ball doesn’t land in the opposite service box, John gets the second try.

If John misses both serves(i.e balls didn’t land in the opposite service box), John will lose the point.

After losing a point, John will announce the score at his next serve. He will announce this “Love-15”. John has zero (love) and Alfred has 1 point (15).

Note: If the ball touches the net and lands in the service box, this service will not be counted.

However, if John’s serve was successful and Alfred successfully returned the serve, then both players would continue to hit the ball back and forth until someone missed the shot, hit the ball into the net or out of bounds.

In this case, if John misses the shot, Alfred will get a point. If Alfred has missed the shot, John gets a point. This continues until the score reaches point 3 which is 40.

When both sides, John and Alfred, have reached the same number of points within the current game, the score is ‘all’.

For example, if John and Alfred have the same point 1, then the score is ‘15-all’ and ‘30-all’ if both players acquired 2 points.

However, if John and Alfred have won 3 points then it would not be called ‘40-all’ rather it would be called ‘deuce’. From this point of the game, whenever the score is tied, it would be called ‘deuce’.

Whenever a tie (deuce) occurs, either John or Alfred must win at least 2 points consecutively to win the game.

For example, if John is serving at a deuce point, and managed to win a point, now John has the advantage which John will announce like this “my ad” or “my advantage”.

However, John needs another point right after the first point to win the game.

This type of scoring is also called ‘advantage scoring’. When the server player has the advantage, it’s called ‘advantage in’. On the other hand, if the opposing player has the advantage, it’s called ‘advantage out’.

However, in some of the professional tournaments, players’ names are used in the scoring system. For example, ‘advantage Williams’ or ‘advantage Nadal’.

So, the possible tennis score after deuce is ‘Ad-in’, ‘Ad-out’ or again deuce(it occurs when the player who has advantage losses the point)

Once the game is over, now Alfred will serve the game. After an odd number of games, John and Alfred will switch ends of the court.

This is how the tennis scoring system works. We hope your question ‘how does tennis score work?’ got the explanation in a simple and detailed manner. This system works according to the tennis scoring rules and regulations defined by USTA.

Noted: ITF tennis rules may vary from USTA rules.

However, this doesn’t end here. There are a few more things that you should know to get a full grab of the tennis scoring system.

Quick Recap: 

  • Each game is played as a series of points starting from love (0) to 40 (3).
  • After winning the toss, the player gets 4 options. To serve first, to receive first, to decide the side of the court to start on or to leave all options to the opponent player.
  • The player who serves first continues to serve until the game has ended.
  • When both players have 3 points(40), this is called a tie or deuce. From this point, whoever wins at least 2 points in a row, wins the game.
  • After an odd game like game three, game five, both players switch the sides of the tennis court.
  • Advantage in’  is the server’s point at deuce.
  • Advantage out’ is the receiver’s point at deuce.

Until now, we have explained how to score a tennis game. Now let’s learn how to score a set?

Scoring a Tennis Set

Unlike scoring a tennis game, Scoring a tennis set doesn’t include complicated things or rules.

A set is completed or won when either of the players wins 6 games. That is, the player who wins 6 games first, wins the set.

However, if a player is tied at deuce, then that player must win at least 2 games to win the set.

Types of a tennis set:

To win a tennis set, you should know the 2 main types of a set. In other words, to score a set, there are two ways to do that.

  • Advantage Set:
    In this type of set, a player must win 6 games (by two) to win the set. It means, in this type of set, there is no tiebreak game even if the score reaches a tie like 6-6 or 6-all. The player wins when he wins by two games.
  • Tiebreak Set:
    In this type of set, a player needs to win 6 games to win the set. For example, if the score is 5-all (5-5), one of the players must win at least 2 more games in a row to win the set. However, if the score reaches a tie (6-6 or 6-all), then we need a tiebreak game to determine the winner.

Scoring a Tiebreak Game

Scoring a Tiebreak Game
How to score a tie-breaker game

From the start of this article, you might be wondering ‘what is a tiebreak in tennis?’. Well, this is the point, we should explain the tiebreak game.

In league matches, when a tennis set reaches 6 games all (6-all or 6-6), a tie occurs and a tiebreak game is played.

A tiebreak is just an extra tennis game to gain more points to decide the winner.

The player who will serve in the next game starts the tiebreak game and serves one point to the deuce of the court.

To win the tiebreaker game, a player must win 2 points. There is no limit on tiebreak game score, it continues to go higher. For example, tiebreak game scores can go like this, 8-6, 9-7, 10-8, 15-13, or even higher.

This tie-breaker game ends only when a player wins by two points. The player who wins two points first wins the tiebreaker game.

Once the tiebreak game is over, the player who served the tiebreak game will continue serving in the first game of the new set which is the next set.

Scoring a Tennis Match

Finally, after diving into the details, we’re now back to the broader picture which is the match.

If the match consists of 3 sets, then you must win at least 2 sets to win the match.

However, if both players have won a set, then the third set decides the winner. For example, if John has won a set and Alfred has also won a set, then the third set determines the winner and that would be the final set.

Tennis match rules are simple as compared to the tennis game rules.

Still, got any confusion?

Let us put the whole story of “how to keep tennis score?” in simple words for you. You:

  • Need to get four points to win a game.
  • Win a tennis set when you win 6 games.
  • Need to win at least 3 sets to win the match.

However, if you’re a beginner tennis player, do yourself a favor. Victor will be the player who wins 2 of 3 sets. If you decide to play a match, you might end up with a tennis elbow.

By now, you might have started to master this tennis scoring system and now it is no longer a daunting task for you to keep score. This is how tennis is scored in the professional world.

In case, you are interested in tennis tournaments formats let’s have a quick look at the way of the tennis tournament.

Tennis Tournament Format

  • Different tennis tournaments have little different rules. For example, big tennis tournaments like WTA premier, Grand Slams, and ATP Tour tournament follow a single-elimination format.

    The single-elimination format is very simple. Losers are eliminated and winners move forward to the next round until only one contestant is left which is the champion.

  • There are some other annual events like ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) which work according to a round-robin format where players play against one another.

  • In the tennis world cup (Davis Cup), 18 teams participate and each team is from a different country. Then these teams are grouped in such a way that each group comprises 3 teams. In other words, they divide teams into 6 groups.

    Those individual groups play in a round-robin format. Then winners of the groups and two best second places (best runner-ups) move to the quarterfinals.

    At this stage, one doubles match and two singles matches are played. These matches are played as best of 3 sets rather than best of 5. Thus, winning teams move forward to the semi-final and final.

Tennis Scoring History

In tennis, scoring works like 15,30,40 instead of 1,2,3 or any other sports. If you’re looking for a specific answer to the question ‘why does tennis score the way it does?’, then, unfortunately, there is no clear answer and origin to this type of scoring system.

However, there are different theories about the history of the tennis scoring system, but those are just theories. We cannot accept them as final words.

According to one theory, the idea of the tennis scoring system resembles the clock to mark the score 15,30,45 while the game ending at 60. Later, they changed 45 to 40 for the advantage.

In other words, they changed 45 to 40(deuce) to ensure that game could not be won by a one-point difference in the score.

So if at a tied game, a player scored a point, he would get 10 which would move the clock to 50. If the same player scored another point in a row, it would move the clock to 60 which means the end of the game.

However, if the player failed to score another point in a row, the clock would move back to 40 which is again deuce.

We have doubts about this theory because the clocks came with minutes hands in the 17th century while the history of tennis goes back to the 15th century.

In other words, before the 17th-century clocks measured only hours. So this is just a theory rather than truth.

So, where do tennis scores come from?

There is another theory that we can accept and it explains tennis score history based on truth.

Jeu de paume in the 17th century
Jeu de paume in the 17th century.
Picture Credit: Wikipedia

As we all know, the history of tennis starts with a French game ‘jeu de paume’ which monks used to play in the 17th century. This game is very similar to tennis. The only difference is that monks played ‘jeu de paume’ with hands instead of tennis racquets.

Jeu de paume was played on a court of 90-feet in length with 45 feet on each side. The server player could move 15 feet per point scored. The player could move up to 45 feet.

Somehow, we believe this theory. Then why does the first point is called “Love”? Well, there is no conclusive answer to this question.

It’s more likely that this word came from the French word “l’oeuf” which means ‘The Egg’. As the egg represents the shape of a zero, this is a close answer to the question.

Conclusion:

At first, tennis scoring can be tough for a beginner player who might be wondering how to keep a tennis score in a face-paced game. But, once you understand this scoring properly, it’s no longer a mystery for you.

It is also necessary to understand the tennis score terms that we explained above. Indeed, understanding the meaning of buzzwords will not help you master tennis strategies like singles, doubles, serve, etc. However, with this tennis score vocabulary, you will be able to hang with any professional tennis player.

Having a grip on how to read a tennis score is helpful, but to know the minor and finer details of tennis scoring, you should participate regularly. Plus, watch tennis matches on a regular base, it will help you understand the tennis scoring system in depth.

Here at Super Tennis Racquet, we tried to help you with the tennis score explained in simple words. We hope now the tennis scoring system makes sense to you.

If you find this tennis score guide helpful, share it with your family, friends, and teammates who might find it helpful too.

Or if you any confusion or questions, do let us know in the comment section below.

FAQs

1. Why is the scoring in tennis so weird?

The definitive answer to this question is the history of tennis which starts with a French game ‘Jeu de Paume’ which was played on a court of 90 feet in length where the server player was allowed to move 15 feet on each point scored.

2. Why the first point is called ‘love’ in tennis?

The word ‘love’, in tennis, is similar to the French word ‘l’oeuf’ which means ‘The Egg’. As the shape of the egg is similar to zero, so we call the first point ‘Love’.

3. Why are tennis scores in French?

Tennis scores are in French because tennis history starts with a French game ‘Jeu de Paume’. The tennis scores that we use today also resembles the scoring system of this game.

4. How do you score in tennis?

In tennis, scores are love, 15,30,40 while love(0) being the starting point. Here are the names of the tennis score in the list below.

  • 0 = Love
  • 1 = 15
  • 2 = 30
  • 3 = 40
  • 4 = Game

5. How many serves are you allowed in tennis?

Once you win the toss or the spin of the racket, the server player gets 2 attempts to perform a serve shot. If the server player misses the first serve or if it doesn’t land in the service box of the opponent player, then the server performs the second serve. If the server player failed both serves, he losses the point.

6. How do you announce a score in tennis?

The server player announces the score before each serve. The server’s score is always first. For example, if the server’s score is zero and the opponent player has one point. Then the server will announce the score like this, “Love-15”.

7. Who calls out the score in tennis?

The server player calls out the score in tennis. The server calls his score first and then the score of the opponent player like “Love-30”. Where love means the server has zero scores and the opponent player has a score of 30 (2 points).

8. What is the next point after deuce?

The possible next point after deuce is either ‘Ad-in, Advantage In’ or ‘Ad-out, Advantage out’.

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