Have you ever watched a tennis match? If you’re not familiar with the special scoring system used in tennis, you may have been really confused. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how tennis players figure out who’s winning.

Players take turns serving, which means hitting the ball first. The person who serves is called the “server.” The other player is the “receiver.” The receiver tries to return the ball to the server.

The play goes back and forth over the net until someone fails to return the ball. When that happens, the other player scores a point.

A tennis match consists of points, games and sets. A player wins the match by winning the most sets. Men usually play matches that are best-of-five format (need to win three sets), while women usually play best-of-three format (need to win two sets).

A typical set consists of six games. Each game is made up of points. The first player to score four points — and have at least two points more than the other player — wins.

Scores for a game are given before each serve, with the serving player’s score announced first followed by the receiving player’s score. A game starts out at zero to zero — or as tennis players say,  “love-love.”  In tennis, a score of zero is called “love.”

Love isn’t the only unique thing about tennis scoring, though. The first point won is called 15, the second point is 30, the third point is 40 and the fourth point is “game.” Kind of strange, right?

So, if a serving player wins four straight points to win the game, the scores announced along the way would be: 15-love, 30-love, 40-love and game. Of course, many other combinations of scores could occur along the way.

Since a player has to score four points and win by at least two points, what happens if both players score four points in a game? In that case, the score is 40-40 (or “40-all”), which is also called “deuce.”

At deuce, the point system takes another interesting turn to the advantage system. At deuce, the next player to score a point is said to have “advantage.” If that player then scores the next point, the game is won. If the other player scores, it goes back to deuce. This cycle will repeat until someone wins two points in a row to win the game.

No one knows for sure how the unique tennis scoring terminology came about, but some believe it came from medieval France, where clocks may have been used to keep score. Since four points are needed to win a game, a clock hand could be turned a quarter move — to 15, 30, 45 and 60 (back to 0) — to keep track of the score.

To allow for the special circumstances of deuce and advantage, people speculate that 45 was changed to 40. In this way, advantage could be marked by 50. If a game was won on the next point, the clock would be turned to 60 (back to 0) to signal the end of a game. If not, it could be turned back to 40 to signal a return to deuce.

As for love… well, that’s a mystery. No definite explanation exists for the use of “love” to mean zero in tennis.

Some believe it comes from the French expression l’œuf (“the egg”) since an egg looks like a zero. The more popular belief, though, is that love came about from the idea of playing simply for the love of the game or, in other words, for nothing or zero money.

 

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  1. I love this wonder wonderopolis I play tennis and I love it I also love to watch it I knew some of the scoring part like I knew Love 15-30-40 and then game but most of the other scoring I didn’t know before I read this wonder this awesome wonder.

    • Kate, that’s SUPER news! Tennis is a fantastic sport, and the scoring can be tricky from time to time! Keep up the SUPER work and keep practicing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Does love conquer all in tennis?
  • What is a deuce?
  • How did the tennis scoring system come about?

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Try It Out

Tennis is a fun game that the whole family can enjoy. If you have a racket and some tennis balls, head to a nearby tennis court and get some exercise together.

If you don’t live near tennis courts or have a tennis racket, no problem! You can still play sidewalk tennis. All you need are two players, a level sidewalk and a small ball that bounces.

Sometimes called “box ball,” sidewalk tennis doesn’t even require a net. The sidewalk is your court for a fun game that will help you develop speed and skill.

Here’s how to play:

  • Pick two sidewalk squares to be your court. The line between the squares will be your net.
  • Only the ball — not the players! — can enter the court, so keep your feet out.
  • Standing on the edge of the square, one player should bounce the ball and “serve” it to the other player by hitting it with an open hand. The ball should bounce only once in the other player’s square.
  • The other player then returns the ball by hitting it with an open hand, so that it bounces just once in the first player’s square.
  • This back-and-forth continues until someone misses the ball. When a player misses, the other players scores a point.
  • The first player to reach 21 points wins!

 

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to learn more about famous professional tennis player Arthur Ashe and to see one of his famous tennis rackets!

 

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