Complexities of the Tennis Scoring System

Tennis Scoring pic

Tennis Scoring
Image: tennistips.org

The president and chief executive officer of iLaw and iLawGlobal, Kenneth “Ken” Randall spent two decades as dean of the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. When he is not overseeing business development and other executive functions at iLaw, Kenneth Randall enjoys staying active by playing tennis.

Keeping score in tennis can be difficult for first-time players, particularly because aspects of the scoring system seem to follow no logic. For instance, players must win 4 points to win a game. However, instead of winning 1, 2, and 3 points, players are awarded scores of 15, 30, 40, and game. Furthermore, a game score of 30-0 may be announced as “30 serving love,” instead of, “30 to 0.” While theories abound, there is no official explanation for the use of 15 and 30 instead of 1 and 2, or how the word “love” came to stand in for 0 points.

In the event that a game is tied at 40-40, players begin a deuce game. To end a deuce game, one player must win a point from the deuce court, or the right side, followed by another point on the ad court, or left side. If no player can string together the necessary 2 or 3 points, a deuce game can theoretically last forever.

Similarly, a player generally wins a set by winning six games with a two-game margin over an opponent. Should the set arrive at a score of six games all, however, a first-to-seven tiebreak is played to determine the set winner. Like a deuce game, there is no end to a tiebreak until a player has reached seven or achieved a 2-point margin over the other player. Again, in theory, a tiebreak can continue without end.

From this point, scoring structures of a match can vary. Most professional matches are played in best-of-three sets, though male players sometimes engage in best-of-five-set matches. In deciding sets at major tennis championships, tiebreaks are not permitted, and players must win the match by a two-game margin. At the recreational level, individuals may opt to play a single set, or further customize scoring by doing away with deuce games or playing a set to eight games rather than six.