Tennis is a sport where “love” means zero, and the scoring system is different for games, sets and matches. We get it: that's confusing. Thanks to the USTA Officiating department, it doesn't have to be.
This handy guide will teach you the basics of scoring, and playing the sport for a lifetime, with helpful tips and buzzwords that you may want to know before you take to the court. Mastering the proper terminology may not help your forehand or serve, but at least in conversation, you can hang with anyone.
Tennis is a game played on a rectangular-shaped court, which can be one of many surfaces. It is either played with two players (singles match), or four players (doubles match). Players stand on opposite sides of the net and use a stringed racquet to hit the ball back and forth to each other.
Each player or team has a maximum of one bounce after the ball has been hit by their opponent to return the ball over the net and within the boundaries of the court. In wheelchair tennis, players get a maximum of two bounces. When a player then fails to return the ball into the correct court, the opponent wins a point.
The aim of tennis is to win enough points to win a game, enough games to win a set, and enough sets to win a match.
STARTING THE MATCH
Before warming up with your opponent, either player or team will spin their racquet and the winner of the spin will have some options to choose from. They can choose one of these 3 options:
- To serve or receive
- The side of the court
- Or defer their choice to their opponent --but the opponent cannot defer back
Once the winner of the toss chooses one of the options above, the opponent has the remaining choice.
SCORING A GAME
Tennis has a different point system than most sports. Before we go into detail, here is your guide to scoring a game:
- 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
In order to win the game, a player must win at least four points. If you are up 40-30, 40-15 or 40-love, and win one more point, you win the game. If the score is tied in a game or set, you use the term “all” when announcing the score. For example, if you and your opponent have both won two points in the game, the score would be 30-all.
WHAT IS A DEUCE?
The only time this is different is when both you and your opponent have won three points each and the score is 40-40. This is called deuce. When the score reaches deuce, one player or team will need to win at least two points in a row to win the game. When the server wins the deuce point, it is called Ad-In, but when they lose the deuce point, it is called Ad-Out. If the team with the advantage (Ad-In or Ad-Out) wins another point, they win the game, or it goes back to deuce.
Players or teams switch ends of the court on odd games. This means that after the first game is complete, they switch sides, as well as every two games after that.
TYPES OF TENNIS SETS
Now let’s look at how many games you need to win a set. There are two main ways of scoring a set.
In an advantage set, a player or team needs to win six games, by two, to win the set. This means that there is no tiebreak game played at 6-6. The set continues until one player/team wins by two games.
In a tiebreak set, a player or team needs to win six games wins a set. If the score gets to 5-5 (5-all), one player must win the next two games to win the set. If the score reaches 6-6 (6-all) in the set, a tiebreak game is played.
SCORING A TIEBREAK GAME
In a tiebreak game, the next person who was due to serve will start the tiebreak game, and serve one point to the deuce side of the court. The following two points will then be served by the opponent starting on the ad side. In doubles, the player on the opposing team due to serve will serve these points.
Players or teams switch ends of the court every six points (e.g. when the score is 4-2), and to score this tiebreak game, you use, “zero” “one”, “two”, “three”, etc. The first player or team to win seven points, by two, wins the tiebreak. This means the score can end up being very high (e.g. 15-13) or as low as 7-0 through 7-5.
Whoever wins the tiebreak game, wins the set by a score of 7-6.
SERVING AFTER A TIEBREAK SET
Since the set is an odd-numbered score (7-6), whichever end of the court the players or teams ended up on when the tiebreak game finished, they will need to switch sides to start the next set. Whoever started serving the tiebreak game will be receiving serve in the first game of the next set.
SCORING A MATCH
The most common format used to play a tennis match is best-of-three tiebreak sets. This means that if you don’t win the first two sets, the third set will decide the match!
GRAND SLAM MATCHES
In March of 2022, the four Grand Slams (Roland Garros, Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open) announced that they'll be transitioning to a consistent, final-set tiebreak format. When a match reaches 6-6 in the deciding set at these events, a 10-point tiebreak will be played. The first player or team to win 10 points, with an advantage of two or more points, will be the winner. Already in use at the Australian Open since 2019, the format will begin at the other three majors starting at the 2022 French Open.
WHAT'S THE CALL
Have you ever been unsure of the rules during your tennis match? From underhand serves and crossing the net to doubles racquet contact and serving to the wrong side, we are here to answer your most common questions regarding the rules of the game.
Check out our What's the Call animation series to see some of the most frequent tennis rules dilemmas.
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