Why is Tennis Scoring So Weird?
Love15, 30, 40, Game. Numbers synonymous only with the sport of tennis. But how did we just jump from zero to 15 like that? As a coach, one of my greatest struggles was explaining to juniors how scoring worked and exactly why we used those particular numbers. The crazy thing is no one really knows.
For those new to tennis, scoring within a game starts with both players at “love all” or zero. Once a point is played, the first score someone can receive is 15. Depending on who is serving, the server will call their score first and the returner’s second. The next point that can be earned is 30, if it is not ‘15 all,” then 40 and if that point is won, that concludes the game. If opponents are tied up at “40 all,” the term used for that point is called deuce.
Within a deuce game, the next person to win that point has the advantage, either it is “ad in” for the server or “ad out” for the returner. Whoever wins their advantage point, wins the game.
That is just one game. The first to win six of these by two games ahead wins a set. If the game count is ever six all, then the players go into a tiebreaker. Once a set is over, the entire process is repeated until someone wins the best two out of three sets.
Now where did all of this exactly come from?
To see where the modern tennis scoring system originated from, you must go back to 12th Century France. During this time, one of the earliest versions of the game was being developed, jeu de paume, or palm game as it would be translated in English. This version of tennis was originally played with the palm of the hand and rackets were not introduced until 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: 15, 30 and then 45. 45 eventually became 40 to allow deuce to be set at 50. This is when the minute hand would finally move to the top of the clock when a game was won.
One thing that needs to be remembered is that jeu de paume was played indoors. It was not until the 1800’s when the sport’s popularity was on the decline. This is when tennis as we know it started to develop. In England, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield developed rules for a modern version of “the palm game” that would be played outdoors on the lawn.
These outdoor courts would be in the shape of an hourglass and points were to be counted one by one. In 1877, the All England Croquet Club decided to hold a championship tournament for the new game but combined the new rules with the old rules. Points would still be counted out one by one but using the “medieval” tennis scoring system: 15, 30, 40.
By the way, that tournament would go on to be known as the first Wimbledon Championships 🎾 🌱.
🎾 Written by James Pressely, staff writer