Because some points are significantly more important than others throughout a tennis match, the tennis scoring system uniquely increases the stress of competition.
As a result, it is a “pressure” scoring system with more opportunities to choke than other sports. However, if you are savvy, these “big points” with their subsequent pressures can present you with opportunities and challenges.
Today, we’ll try to break down how the tennis score is kept so that even complete beginners can count tennis points after reading this article – without getting a headache! Please skip ahead to the topic of your choice in the quick navigation menu below.
How Does Tennis Scoring Work?
The tennis scoring system works allows players to earn points, games, and sets. Win enough points, and you’ll win a game; win enough games, and win a set; and win enough sets, and win the match. Simple, right? Well, it gets a little more complicated.
This is how to accomplish each of these goals: To win a game, you must score at least four points. To win a set, you must play at least six games. Finally, you must win at least two sets (sometimes three) to win a match.
Before Play Starts
Before the match begins, the tennis players toss a coin, and the winner gets to choose whether to serve first or have his opponent serve first. They can also choose which side of the court to begin on, in which case the decision to serve or receive is deferred to the coin toss loser.
The winner may also defer the decision to their opponent, but the losing player may not do so again. Finally, the players have a brief warm-up before the umpire signals the start of the competitive match. It begins with 0 sets, 0 games, and a score of 0-0 in the first game.
The Tennis Scoring System Explained
How to Score a Game?
A player usually needs to win four points to win a game. If the score is tied at 40-40 or “deuce”, the player who wins the next point then moves to ‘Advantage’. If the same player wins the next point, he wins the game, and a new game is started.
However, the score goes back to deuce if the other player wins the next point. This keeps going until someone wins two points in a row from the deuce score.
The table below depicts a sample game situation between Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner to further explain the game’s process. It’s the first game of the match, and Alcaraz is serving.
|Start Of The Game
|Alcaraz wins the game
|Sinner serves next
How to Earn Points?
There are six ways to win a point: winners, double-bounces, double-faults, and errors made by the opposing player where they hit the ball out of bounce or into the net.
How to Score a Set?
The score in sets is called out by the server before the first serve in each new game. For instance, if you won the first set, you’d say “1-0.” A set is won by the player winning 6 games; the first player to win 6 games wins the set. A player must win a set by at least two games. If the score is tied at 6-6, a tiebreaker is usually played to decide the winner of the set.
How to Score a Tennis Match?
The entire thing is referred to as a match. The best two out of three sets determine the match. So you win if you win two sets. A third set is played to determine the winner if you each win a set.
Who serves and who returns is rotated among the players. They also switch sides after each odd game in a set, so after the first game, players switch ends, then after the third, fifth, ninth, and so on.
Since a tie break is effectively the 13th game of the set, players will switch ends and begin the next set following the tiebreak. After six points, the players switch during the tie break. For example, it’s time to switch sides when the score is 4-2. When the score reaches 6-6, it’s time to switch back.
Tennis matches are made up of points, games, and sets. The set format for matches is best-of-three (first to two sets wins) or best-of-five (first to three sets wins). The best-of-five set format is exclusively played in men’s singles or doubles matches during Grand Slam or Davis Cup tournaments.
Tennis Scoring Rules Terminology
The smallest unit of scoring. As points are scored, the score increases from 0 to 15 to 30 to 40. If a player wins the next point while on 40, they win 1 game – but only if their opponent is not also on 40. In that scenario, they’d need to win two points in a row to win the game.
A point is started when the server hits the tennis ball into the opponent’s half of the court.
A winner is an excellent tennis shot that the opponent cannot return.
An error is defined as a missed shot or a lost point that is completely the result of the player’s own blunder rather than the opponent’s skill or effort.
A double fault is whenever a server commits any combination of two consecutive serving faults that result in the loss of a point.
When the ball bounces twice before a shot is made, the player trying to return it loses the point.
Point Penalty/Code Violation:
If the chair umpire finds a code violation, there is usually a specified protocol for punishment. Typically, the umpire will issue a warning to a player first. The player will get a point penalty if another code violation occurs after the warning. If another code violation occurs after that point penalty, the player will be penalized one game.
After the third infraction, the chair umpire or tournament director decides whether to call a default/disqualification. The most common code violations are (ball or racket abuse, audible or visible obscenity, verbal abuse, best effort, coaching, refusing to meet the press etc.).
Tennis is a four-point game in which a two-point lead is required to win. These four points are known as love (zero), 15, 30, 40, and game. If the score is tied at deuce (forty all), the game goes on until a player wins by at least two points.
The first player to reach 4 points wins the game using no-advantage scoring. The requirement that a player win by 2 points is removed with no-ad scoring. As a result, if the game is tied at deuce, the next player to score a point wins.
A set is the next tennis scoring unit above a game and an accumulation of games won by the same player. A set is won when a player has won six games and has a two-game lead over their opponent. A tiebreak is played when a set is tied at 6-6.
A game for breaking a tie between two players. To score a tiebreak game, use “zero,” “one,” “two,” “three,” and so on. The first player or team wins the tiebreak to win seven points by two or more points.
The process for the 10-point match tiebreak is the same as for the 7-point set tiebreak, except that the winning player or team must reach 10 points by at least 2 points to win the final set. All four tennis Grand Slams use a 10-point tiebreak in the final set when tied at 6 games apiece.
Tennis Scoring History
Like most of the game scoring vocabulary and features, the tennis scoring system is borrowed from the French. So, in the 15th and 16th centuries, clock faces were critical for keeping track of scores on the court. Each player would start at 12 and then progress to 15 points after their first score (quarter past).
The second score would be half-past (30), and the third score would be 45 (quarter to). As a result, the match is won by the first player to return the clock’s face hand to midnight. Due to ties (at deuce), the 40 and 45 scores had to be changed. In the event of a tie, the player who gained the advantage point would receive a 50.
This would raise the game-winning point to 50 from 60. The player must win two consecutive points after a deuce to win the game. The first point following a deuce is considered an advantage, whereas the second is a game-winning point. If a player fails to win two consecutive games or an opponent ties again, the game is reset to 40 points.
My takeaway from researching the subject is that the origins will remain a mystery, but that’s how the scoring system works, how it has worked since the Victorian era, and how it will continue to function in the near future.
Why Do Some Tennis Players Say 5 Instead of 15?
5 is simply a shorthand for 15. When they say 5, they really mean 15; they’re not referring to the number 5. However, if you watch any pro tennis, you will never hear “5”; they always use the official scores – 15, 30, 40, game.
Why Do They Say Love in Tennis Scoring?
Since the late 1800s, the word “love” has been used to describe a score of zero in tennis. It’s unclear how the use of love came about, but the term might derive from the informal phrase “for love,” meaning “without stakes being wagered.”
Why Do They Call 40/40 Deuce in Tennis?
Players can be tied at 15 and 30, but not after that; 40-all is considered “deuce” because it is a “deux du jeu” – two points away from winning the game.
What is the new scoring system at grand slam tournaments?
The 4 Grand Slams (French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open) agreed on transitioning to a uniform, final-set tiebreak format.
A ten-point tiebreak will be played when a match gets to 6-6 in the final set at these tournaments (the fifth set for men and the third for women). The winner will be the first player or team to win ten points, with an advantage of two or more points.
Also, check out our article on all basic tennis rules explained!
Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.