The Tennis Scoring System Explained: An Easy Guide

Are you looking to improve your tennis game? Then read this article about tennis scoring. You’ll be able to understand the basics of tennis scoring and start improving your game today!

Consider the following scenario: a perfect blue sky, a perfect tennis court divided by sparkling white lines that match the fine creases of your box-fresh white shorts… And how do you keep score again?  Tennis is perfect enjoyment and, at its essence, delightfully simple. When you first start, evil surrealists may appear to have created the scoring system. In truth, it was most likely medieval French courtiers.

First, you’ll need to master various terms, including points, games, advantages, sets, and tie-breaks. You’ll also need to learn how to count points entirely differently (0, 15, 30, 40) – absolutely nonsensical.  You must learn when each player serves and switches sides. But there’s no reason to panic! Following tennis matches becomes quite simple once you have a basic understanding of how the point system works. Today, we’ll try to break down the tennis scoring rules 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.

Quick Navigation

  1. How Does Scoring In Tennis Work?
  2. Before Play Starts
  3. Game Scoring
  4. Match Scoring
  5. Scoring Terminology
  6. Tennis Scoring Origins

1. How Does The Tennis Scoring System Work?

The tennis scoring system allows players to accumulate 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.

2. 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.

3. The Scoring System Explained

How To Score A Game?

Before serving, announce the score, your own first, then your opponent’s. Say “love-30” if you have zero and your opponent has thirty. You receive two chances to serve every time. Before your opponent returns the serve, it must cross the net, land in the service box opposite you, and bounce once. You get another chance if it doesn’t land in the service box. If the second serve also misses, the point is lost. If your serve grazes the net but still lands in the service box, it does not count and must be retaken. This is known as a “let.”

If your serve is successful and your opponent returns it, the game continues until someone hits the ball into the net, out of bounds, or misses a shot. If you are that individual, your opponent gains a point. You get the point if your opponent hits it into the net, out of bounds, or misses a shot.

Serving continues until the score reaches 40, with the score called out before each serve. If the score is tied at 40 (“40-all”), the term “deuce” is used, which is just another synonym for “tie.” Someone must win two points in a row to break the tie. If you serve at deuce and win the next point, you say “my ad,” which translates to “my advantage.” If your opponent wins, the game is reset to deuce, and someone must win two games in a row. When the game is finished, the other person serves. After every odd-numbered game (game one, game three, and game five), you change sides on the court.

Breakdown of the Point System

0 PointsLove
1 Point15
2 Points30
3 Points40
Tied ScoreAll
40-40Deuce
Server wins deuce pointAd-In
Receiver wins deuce pointAd-Out

Sample Game

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.

Point Outcome

AlcarazSinner
Start Of The Game00
Alcaraz’s point150
Sinner’s point1515
Alcaraz’s point3015
Alcaraz’s point4015
Sinner’s point4030
Sinner’s point4040
Sinner’s point40Advantage
Alcaraz’s point4040
Alcaraz’s pointAdvantage40
Alcaraz’s pointAlcaraz wins the gameSinner serves next

How to earn points?

There are six ways to win points: winners, double-bounces, errors by the opponent at the net, errors from the opponent where they hit the ball out of bounce, the opponent receives a point penalty, and double-faults. Each of these ways earns the player one point.

How To Score A Set?

The score in sets is announced before the first serve in each new game by whoever is serving. First, state your score, followed by your opponent’s. For example, if you won the first set, you would say “1-0.”
Someone must win six games to finish a set; the first person to win six games wins the set.
However, as with “deuce,” you must win at least two games in a row. Play will continue if the score is 6-5. A tiebreaker is usually played if the score is tied at 6-6. (However, other tournaments have slightly different regulations for dealing with ties.)

How To Score The 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.

Changing Sides

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.

4. Match Scoring

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.

5. Tennis Scoring Terminology

  • Point: 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.
  • Serve: A point is started when the server hits the tennis ball into the opponent’s half of the court.
  • Winner: A winner is an excellent tennis shot that the opponent cannot return.
  • Error: 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.
  • Double Fault: If a player serves a double fault, they make a mistake with both serves and lose the point.
  • Double Bounce: When the ball bounces twice before a shot is played, the receiver 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.).
  • Game: 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 40, the game is extended until one player wins by a two-point margin.
  • Set: A set is the next tennis scoring unit above a game. A set is won when a player has won six games and is at least two games ahead of their opponent. A tiebreak is played when a set is tied at 6-6.
  • Tiebreak: 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 points.
  • 10-Point Tiebreak: 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.

6. Tennis Scoring Origins

Like most of the game’s vocabulary and features, the 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.