How to Keep Score in Tennis for Beginners
Tennis has one of the strangest scoring systems of any sport, so we’re here to help you understand the basics of tennis scoring, as well as give you a bit of a history lesson about how the scoring system came about.
Game. Set. Match
In tennis, you start by playing points. Winning a certain number of points leads to winning games. Winning a certain number of games leads to winning sets. Winning a certain number of sets leads to winning the match.
A standard game is scored as follows, with the server’s score being called first.
No point: "love"
First point: "15"
Second point: "30"
Third point: "40"
Fourth point: "game"
The goal is to win four points in order to win a game.
If both the server and receiver have the same score, the term “all” is used after the point value. For example, a game starts at “love-all” (but you don’t necessarily need to call that score aloud), and if each player wins a point, then the score would be “15-all.” The exception is when each player has won three points. Instead of saying “40-all,” the term “deuce” is used. After “deuce,” the score is “advantage” for the player who wins the next point. For example, if Serena Williams were playing Naomi Osaka, and Williams won the first point after “deuce,” the score would be “advantage Williams.” In recreational tennis, players often say “ad-in” if the server has the advantage, or “ad-out” if the receiver has the advantage. If the player who has the advantage wins the next point, she wins the game. If the other player wins the next point, the score returns to “deuce.” A player must win two consecutive points after “deuce” to win the game.
Tied score: "all"
Server wins deuce point: "ad-in"
Receiver wins deuce point: "ad-out"
There are some tournaments that use “no-ad” scoring so that matches finish more quickly. In that case, the first player to win the point after “deuce” wins the game.”
While the origins of the scoring system aren’t completely clear, records indicate that a system using “love, 15, 30, 45” had been in place since the 16th century. As you can see, the increments originally increased by 15, until players decided to shorten “45” to “40.” There’s some speculation that the increments of 15 are based on the four main divisions on a clock.
There are many theories about the origins of saying “love” instead of “0.” One of the most popular theories is that it comes from the French word, “l’oeuf,” meaning “egg,” which resembles the number “0.” However, that explanation doesn’t follow the pattern of other French words that have been adopted into English. On the other hand, “deuce” clearly derives from the French word “deux,” meaning “two.”
Once you win a game, the goal is to win an entire set. Depending on the rules set forth by a tournament (or between friends if you’re playing recreationally), a player usually wins a set by winning six games with a margin of two games. If the score reaches 5-5, a player may still win 7-5. However, if the score reaches 6-6, then if the set has been deemed a “tie-break set,” the players will play a tie-break at 6-6. For further information about how to keep score in a tie-break, check out “Tennis Tie-breaks Made Easy.” Otherwise, if the set is an “advantage set,” the set will continue until one player wins two consecutive games over her opponent.
Just like how some tournaments use “no-ad” scoring to get through matches in a shorter amount of time, some tournaments also use pro-sets rather than playing multiple six-game sets. A pro-set is played until one player wins eight games by a margin of two games.
While matches can be played to the best of three sets (the first player to win two sets wins the match) or to the best of five sets (the first player to win three sets wins the match), women typically play to best of three sets.
To wrap up, here’s a rundown of the basics of scoring in tennis:
- You must win four points (“15,” “30,” “40,” and “game”) to win a game.
- You must win six games by a margin of two to win a set.
- You must win two sets out of three to win a match.