Why tennis is scored the way it is has fascinated tennis players and historians, alike. Those of you who are familiar with our website, TheTennisBros.com, know we take a no-nonsense approach to both our equipment reviews and tennis instruction!

Therefore, let us be straight with you now… no-one really knows why tennis is scored the way it is.

Elizabeth Wilson, in the book, “Love Game”, wrote: “I don’t think anyone really knows how it started or why it developed the way it did”.

However, we’ve done our own research on this fascinating topic and have found there are some really interesting theories, which we’ll discuss in this article.

Then, you can make your mind up on whether they sound likely to have caused such a weird and wonderful tennis scoring system!

Firstly, we appreciate not all of you reading this article may be tennis players, so here’s a quick tennis scoring crash course.

 

The Scoring System

 

A tennis game starts with both players locked in at 0-0. The zero effect (whether one person is at zero, or both) is also called “Love”.

When one player wins a point, they move up to 15-0 (“15-Love” – as spoken by the umpire, with the server’s score always being stated first).

If the player ahead wins the next point, they would be at 30-0 (“30-Love”). However, if the opposing player won this next point, the score would go, 15-15 (“15-All”).

The next point available after 30, is 40 (not 45 like you might be expecting! More on this later.)

The next point after 40 wins the game.

If there is a tie and 40-40, this is always called “Deuce”. From this, a player must win two points in a row to win the game. Going up one point from Deuce is called “Advantage”, then winning another point from here would win the game.

If a player got to Advantage, then lost the next point, the score would reset back to Deuce, until one player took the game.

There’s been some epic Deuce battles in Wimbledon Finals over the years – a quick YouTube search could keep you entertained all day. This exciting footage makes us really glad tennis is scored the way it is, even if it is a bit weird!

Once a game has been won, 6 games must be won by two clear games, ie. 6-4, for a player to take the set.

Depending on whether a match is the best of 5 (first to 3 sets) or the best of 3 (first to 2 sets) will determine when a player goes on the match. The number of sets required to win is obviously always pre-determined before the match, but varies depending on the particular competition venue, level and gender.

There are a few more intricacies than this, like tiebreaks, and what happens in the final set at Wimbledon if players are locked in at 2-2 set all, but this provides a very good overall picture, should you have been in the dark about how tennis is scored the way it is before reading the above!

Now that’s all clear, let’s move on to some of the theories about why tennis is scored the way it is.

The Clock Face

 

This is probably one of the most convincing arguments out there.

It is believed that tennis scores in the very early days were shown on two clock faces. As each person scored, the clock face was moved around 25% or 15 minutes, from 15 to 30, then 45, and finally the win on 60.

Some of you will probably be shouting at your computer or phones right now, saying tennis is scored as 40, not 45!

And you’d be right!

However, critics believe that the verbal declaration of “45” was shortened to “40” when clock faces stopped being used.

This is interesting as we naturally do this, even in today’s game. For instance, you won’t have to hang around long at your local tennis club to hear people saying, “thirties”, instead of “30-all”.

Another common expression is, “van” instead of “advantage”, or even “2” (referring to the first and second serves still remaining) instead of “Let-First Service”, as you will hear umpires say on television.

For these reasons, I, personally find it completely believable that dropping the “5” from “45” happened at some point in history.

 

When Was the Scoring System Developed?

 

Historians agree that the traditional scoring system that’s still in use today dates right back to the early beginnings of tennis.

In a match between Henry V and French Dauphin, as written in poetry, a few years after the 1415 Agincourt Battle, there are many references to 15, 30 and 45. 

In the 1520s, Erasmus wrote “we’ve got 30, we’ve got 40”, when referring to a dialogue between two tennis players.

 

What About Love?

 

Okay, so firstly I haven’t taken to giving out dating advice. I’ll leave that to our resident ladies man, Will!

Again, there isn’t any hard evidence to suggest why love is used to refer to the state of “zero”.

However, one suggestion is that it refers to the French term, l’oeuf, meaning, egg; the shape of the egg being the same shape as a zero.

Although a possibility, the counter argument is that the early day players never wrote their scores down, so the visual, zero shape was not needed.

Our Thoughts

 

We hope this article has provided you with some interesting food for thought on the tennis scoring systems! Although it’s impossible to make any conclusive comments on why things are the way they are, we feel that the clock face argument does provide a very convincing argument.

Why?

How many different metric systems are out there that fit the bill?

Not many with the 25% percent marks hitting the tennis metrics in such a similar way.

Additionally, the shortening of “45” to “40” does actually make a lot of sense. As we touched upon earlier, tennis club members will be fully aware of how often this truncating effect happens when calling the score.

Expressions such as, “Van-In” instead of “Advantage-{insert:Player’s Surname}” and  then just silence when a game is won, instead of saying “game”, as an umpire would say.

Upon reflection, I actually don’t think I’ve ever played a match where I or my opponent has declared “game”. I don’t plan to either! Calling out that I’d just won wouldn’t make me too popular!

Often, people are even too lazy to call any score out at all and just rely on keeping track of it in the heads, or even worse, expecting the opponent to keep it for them!

You can imagine the fireworks that happen on court when two players engaged in heated debate and disagreement over the score. Most of the time it’s their own fault, though!

Tennis players at all levels, just love saying the minimum they can get away with on court. It’s hardly surprising though – just playing the game is physically and mentally exhausting enough to begin with!

 

Article by: Tom