Tennis scoring, explained: A guide to understanding the rules, terms & points system at the US Open

Love? Deuce? Advantage? What does it all mean?

Tennis has long had the most unique way of keeping score, and the origins of the sport’s scoring system is actually fairly ambiguous. So if you’re looking for why exactly tennis scoring is so weird, you might be not be satisfied with the answer, but we’ll try.

Don’t be intimidated by the way tennis score is kept: Tennis scoring is definitely unorthodox, but it’s actually quite simple when you break it down piece by piece and point by point.

MORE: Follow the 2020 U.S. Open live scores

How does tennis scoring work?

Tennis matches work in three phases: A game, a set and a match. 

game is played until a player scores four points, of which a player can earn in a number of different ways (more on that below). 

A set is collection of games, played until a player wins six games (or more). 

A match is played to a best-of-three or five sets. Usually, championship matches are played to five sets.

  Set 1 Set 2 Set 3
Player A 6 5 6
Player B 4 7 1

In this example, Player A won the match, winning by a score of 6-4, 5-7 and 6-1. Player B won the second set by two games.

Scoring a game

A game is won when a player scores four (or more) points: 15, 30, 40 and the game-winning point.

Should both players make it 40, then the score is called “deuce.” Following deuce, a player must win two consecutive points: the first point, known as “advantage” and the game-winning point. If the opposing player scores the next point, the game once again heads to deuce.

  • 0 points = Love
  • 1 point = 15
  • 2 points = 30
  • 3 points = 40
  • Tied score = All
  • 40-40 = Deuce
  • Server wins deuce point = Ad-In
  • Receiver wins deuce point = Ad-Out

Scoring a set

A player must win at least six games to win a set. A player must also win by two games in order to win the set. So if a game is played to a 6-5 score in the set, then the leading player must win a seventh game in order to win the set.

Rules are a little different for a tiebreak set. If a set should make it to 6-6, a tiebreak game is played to determine a winner of the set, resulting in a 7-6 set score. Rather than use traditional tennis scoring, this is scored one, two, three and so forth. The first player to win seven points, by two, wins the tiebreak game, and the set. There are different point totals for different tournaments, however. 

Scoring the match

A match is completed (usually best of three or best of five) when a player reaches six sets and wins by at least two sets. 

  Set 1 Set 2 Set 3
Player A 6 5 6
Player B 4 7 1

In this example, Player A won the match by a score of 6-4, 5-7 and 6-1. Player B won the second set 7 to 5, reaching the sixth game first but having to win by two games.

Tennis scoring rules

There are multiple ways a point can be scored. Among them:

  • An unreturnable ball (ball bounces twice); 
  • Double fault;
  • Ace (unreturnable serve);
  • Ball hit out of bounds (the lines count as in); 
  • Ball hit into the net.

Tennis scoring terms and what they mean

Unlike a normal 1 point or 2 runs like any other normal sports, tennis’ first three points are 15, 30 and 40.

If you’re looking for a definitive answer on why tennis uses the scoring system it does, unfortunately, there’s no clear origin of tennis scoring system as we see it today. However, there are a few different theories:

— Tennis scoring was “originally” kept on clock faces, with hands being placed at 15, 30 and 45 minute marks to keep score. The 45-minute mark was dialed back to 40 to account for advantage, with the game ending at 60. Though, minute hands weren’t added to clocks until the 17th century, so this is more of a theory or urban legend rather than truth.

— The numerical values are attached to a French game, jeu de paume, similar to tennis but played with a hand instead of a racket. The serving player would allowed to be move up 15 feet per point scored, up to 45. The game was played on a 90-foot court. Jeu de paume eventually gave way to tennis as we know it now.

— The same can be said for the use of “love”: There’s no definitive answer, but it likely comes from the phrase “l’oeuf,” which is French for “the egg.” If you have never seen an egg, it resembles a 0.

Tennis score after a deuce

If both players reach 40, this is known as deuce (not 40-all). A player has to score two consecutive points to win the game following deuce. The first point scored after deuce is known as “advantage.” Once a player scores advantage, their next point wins. If that player loses the point, then the score reverts to deuce. 

“Advantage in” is the server’s point, while “advantage out” is the player receiving the serve.

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