Tennis Scoring - How To Keep Score In Tennis

How To Keep Score In Tennis

Point Values, Tiebreaker, and Examples

If you’re totally confused about how to keep score in tennis, then you’ve come to the right place.

It’s arguably one of the oddest scoring systems in mainstream sports, but it’s also one of the most unique and quirky systems – one that you’ll likely come to appreciate as a member of the tennis community.

Stick with me for a few minutes, and you’ll have it mastered in no time.

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The Tennis Scoring System

I’ve always found it easiest to explain by starting broad and working my way down to the specifics.

First off, when you step out on the court to play tennis against an opponent, it’s referred to as a match. For comparison’s sake, the word “match” is equivalent to the word “game” in football, baseball, or basketball.

So when you tell your friends that you’re going to watch a friend play tennis, try to avoid saying, “I’m going to watch my friend’s tennis game.” Instead, you refer to it as a “match,” otherwise, you may find tennis players poking fun at you.

Typically, a tennis match is played as best of three sets, which simply means the first person that wins to two sets wins the match – this is the most common format. However, some professional men’s tennis tournaments, such as the US Open, are played as best of five, where the first person who wins three sets wins the match.

Each set is played to six games. However, you must win by two games. If you end up tied at six, you play a tiebreaker (we’ll cover this in a bit). Within each tennis game, there are a bunch of unique point values.

Quick review:

  • When you play tennis against an opponent, it’s called a match
  • A match is played as best of three sets (or in some cases best of five)
  • Each set is played to six games, but you must win by two (if tied at six, you play a tiebreaker)

Now let’s get into the specifics about each game that in tennis.

Point Values In A Tennis Game

Each game in tennis is played to three points, but just like a set, you must win by two. The confusing part for most new tennis players is that we don’t simply use the point values such as 0, 1, 2, 3… instead, we assign special point values:

  • 0 points = Love
  • 1 point = 15
  • 2 points = 30
  • 3 points = 40
  • Tied at 1 point = 15-all
  • Tied at 2 points = 30-all
  • Tied at 3 points = deuce

That covers the basics, but there’s also what’s referred to as “ad scoring” when you get to deuce, so let’s run through this as if you were serving:

  • Deuce and you win a point – the score is “ad in” (short for advantage in).
  • Ad in and you win the next point – you win the game.
  • Ad in and you lose the next point – then the score goes back to “deuce.”
  • Deuce and your opponent wins a point – then the score is “ad out” (short for advantage
  • out).
  • Ad out and your opponent wins the next point – then your opponent wins the game.
  • Ad out and you win the next point – then the score goes back to deuce.

Remember, the above “ad scoring” is from the perspective of you serving, which would flip if your opponent was serving.

It’s also important to note that the server always calls their points out first before every point. So, for example, if you’re serving and you win a point, the score is 15-love. This detail is key, and it’s one that tends to get beginners tripped up, especially when they’re watching a tennis match and trying to follow along.

If you’re still scratching your head a bit, don’t worry, it’s confusing at first. Let’s walk through an example to clear things up.

An Example Tennis Game

Here’s an example tennis game where you’re serving.

  • Before you serve the first point of the game
    • If it’s the first point of the match, you don’t need to call out any points. There’s no such thing as “love-all” in tennis.
    • If it’s the first point and you’ve already played a game(s), then you call out the score in games. For example, say you’ve played three games, of which you won two, and your opponent won one. You’d say, “2 to 1.”
  • You win the first point of the game
    • The score is now “15-love.”
  • You win the following point
    • The score is now “30-love.”
  • Your opponent wins the following two points
    • The score is now “30-all.”
  • You win the next point
    • The score is now “40-30.”
  • Your opponent wins the next point
    • The score is now “deuce.”
  • You win the next point
    • The score is now “ad in.”
  • Your opponent wins the next point
    • The score is now back to “deuce.”
  • You win the next point
    • The score is now back to “ad in.”
  • You win the next point
    • The game is over. No need to call out any points.

Playing A Tiebreaker

Now that you have a handle on how to play a single game (which is part of a set) in a tennis match, let’s talk about tiebreakers. If you’re playing a set, remember that it’s first to six games, and you must win by two. However, if you tie the score at six games apiece, or 6-all, you’re going to need to play a tiebreaker to determine who wins the set.

The best way to think about a tiebreaker is that it’s merely an extended game with more points. The odd part here is that we’re going to go ahead and break all the scoring rules I just taught you.

That is, instead of using love, 15, 30, 40, deuce, ad in, and ad out, we’re now going to use simple point values, i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3. Also, instead of first to three points, win by two like a standard game, a tiebreaker is first to seven points, win by two.

Let’s take a look at another example:

  • You serve the first point of the tiebreaker
    • It’s 0-0, but again there’s no need to call out this score – it’s assumed
  • You win 5 points in a row
    • The score is 5/0
  • You win the next point
    • The score is now 6/0
  • Your opponent wins 6 points in a row
    • The score is now 6/6
  • You win the next point
    • The score is now 7/6 (not over yet – remember you have to win by 2)
  • Your opponent wins the next point
    • The score is now 7/7
  • You win the following 2 points
    • The game is over, and the score is 9-7

There you have it! At first glance, tennis scoring can seem ridiculously confusing, but hopefully, after breaking it down, you’ve started to master it.

If you’re looking to get even more comfortable with how to keep score in tennis, I recommend playing as much as possible and watch as much tennis as you can. There’s no better way to learn than just to get out there and do it, so it’s time to hit the court.

Wrapping Up

Do you still have questions? Feel free to post a comment. I’d love to help clear things up.

Photo Credit: Flickr – Johnny Lucas

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