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Why Is Tennis Scoring So Weird? Top Terms to Know and How it All Got Started

Why Is Tennis Scoring So Weird? 

Love, 15, 30, 40 — these aren’t your typical scoreboard numbers. 

As a tennis coach, one of the most frequent questions I get is about this peculiar scoring method. Why these specific increments? 

Let’s delve into the sequence of these scores and their significance during a match. Following that, we’ll explore the fascinating history behind tennis’s unique point system. 

At the start of the game, both players begin with "love," the tennis term for zero.

Once the first point is won, the victor receives a score of 15. He/she then moves on to serve and announces their score before their opponent’s. Following this, the sequence progresses to 30 and then 40. 

If a player scores again after 40, they win the game unless both players are at 40, which is termed as "deuce."

Deuce and Advantage (our favorite word here): When the game reaches deuce, the next point puts a player in the coveted “advantage” spot, bringing them only a point away from winning. You might have heard an umpire announce, “Alcatraz, Advantage” or simply “Alcatraz, Ad.” Either way, it signifies that Carlos is on the brink of securing the game. However, if Carlos were to drop the next point, the game would swing back to deuce.

Moving on to Winning a Set: Players aim is to win six games, leading at least two games over their opponent. If the score reaches 6-6, it’s time for a tiebreaker to determine the set. 

Winning the Match: To triumph, a player typically needs to win two of the three sets. However, in intense matches like the 2012 Djokovic vs. Nadal match in Australia, it’s a best of five sets format.

The Origin of Tennis Scoring System

Why the oddly sequenced number jumps? The origins are a bit hazy, but here’s a glimpse into history: 

The modern tennis scoring system finds its roots in 12th-century France. Back then, an early ‘prototype’ of tennis, named “jeu de paume” (or ‘palm game’), was gaining popularity. Intriguingly, players hit the ball using just their palms, as racquets made their debut later, in the 16th century. 

In jeu de paume, a clock face was generally used as a scoreboard. Clocks were becoming increasingly common in the Middle Ages, and the minute hands moved a quarter of the way around each time, explaining the first two scores in tennis — 15 and 30. The jump to 45 is an anomaly, and its origins remain a topic of debate. 

But what about the term, ‘Love?’

There are two prevailing theories. One suggests the players begin with zero, signifying they play purely for the ‘love’ of the game — a spirited sentiment. Alternatively, some believe “love” stems from the French word for “egg,” “l’oeuf,” referencing the shape of a zero. While it might seem a stretch, sports like cricket, originating in the 17th century, have their own similar, twisty naming origins.

Jeu de paume photo from 1672 showing medieval game with 4 players indoors holding racket

Who Invented Tennis?

By the 1800s, the indoor game “jeu de paume” was losing its allure. That’s when the modern iteration of tennis began to take shape. 

In England, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield developed rules for a modern version of “the palm game” intending it for outdoor play on lawns. These courts adopted an hourglass design, with points recorded incrementally. 

Come 1877, the All England Croquet Club initiated a championship tournament, ingeniously blending new game principles with the traditional scoring system of “medieval tennis: 15, 30, 40. 

That iconic event? It later became globally renowned as the first Wimbledon Championships.


🎾 Written by James Pressely, staff writer

Updated by Maybelline Sak


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