From the outside, tennis scoring can look complicated and intimidating. Once you know what you’re looking at, though, tennis is a very simple and elegant sport.
In professional tennis, players face off in a match. Each match is broken up into component blocks called sets. Within each set are a series of individual games.
And a game is simply a race to four points. (You have to win that race by two, but we’ll come to that in just a second.)
How Does Scoring Work For a Game of Tennis?
For some reason, the inventors of tennis complicated an otherwise simple race to four points by writing a bizarre scoring system that looks like this:
- Both players start a new game with zero points, or “love.”
- After scoring your first point, you move to “15.”
- After scoring your second point, you move to “30.”
- After scoring your third point, you move to “40.”
- After scoring your fourth point, you win the game. (Maybe.)
So, next time you hear a tennis score of 30-to-15, you’ll know that it’s really just 2-to-1.
What Is Deuce In Tennis?
Now, in any game of tennis, you have to win by two. So in a scenario where it’s 40-to-40 – also known as 3-to-3 – neither player can win the game merely by winning the next point.
Because of this, 40-to-40 has a special score in tennis: “Deuce.”
Deuce effectively means that the next player to win two consecutive points is the winner of the game. After either player wins the first deuce point, they are said to have the “advantage” because they’re within one point of winning the game. But if the player with advantage loses that next point, the game goes right back to being scored as Deuce.
How Does Tennis Scoring Work?
Tennis players want to win enough games that they can win a set. While some low levels of tennis (like high school) may just play one long set, most professional players play a six-game set. The first player to win six games will win a set. (Let’s revisit this in just a second.)
In a best-of-3 match, which is what most tour professionals will play most of the time, a player needs to win two sets to win the match. In best-of-5 matches – usually reserved for grand slam events on the men’s tour – a player needs to win three sets to win the match.
Now, let’s go back to winning a set. Players need to win six games … but as is the case with the basic game scoring, players are also expected to win a set by two games. So if a set is tied at 5-5, the player must win seven games instead of six. And if a set is tied at 6-6 … that’s when things get really interesting.
Most events elect to settle a 6-6 tied set by playing a tiebreaker. Each player starts at 0-0, and the first to seven points wins the entire set. And, you guessed it, they need to win the tiebreaker by two points. As you can imagine, that can lead to some pretty long tiebreaker bouts.
At Wimbledon, the club does not allow fifth-set tiebreakers. Players must win the winner-take-all set by two games. That had led to some brutally long matches in the past – most famously, the days-long first-round marathon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in 2010, which lasted for more than 11 hours. The final set lasted for 138 games.
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