(Usta) – 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).
The general concept is that 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 (except in wheelchair tennis), after the ball has been hit by their opponent, to return the ball over the net and within the boundaries of the court. When a player fails to hit the ball after one bounce and 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:
You’ve got the gear. You’re on the court. What now?
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:
- 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
- Scorer 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. So 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”. For example, if you and your opponent have both won two points in the game, the score would be 30-all.
The only time this is different is when the score is 40-40, 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. If player A is serving and wins the deuce point, the score is Ad-In. If they win another point, they win the game, or else it goes back to deuce.
Scoring a set and switching ends of the court:
Now let’s look at how many games you need to win a set. There are two main ways of scoring a set: an advantage set or a tiebreak 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” 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.
So who serves next?
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.
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.
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!
Beginning in 2019, each of the four Grand Slams showcase the different ways to win a final set.
- Australian Open: Final set. First to 10 points, tiebreak at 6-6
- French Open: Final set. Advantage set, with no tiebreak
- Wimbledon: Final set. First to 7 points, tiebreak at 12-12
- US Open: Final set. First to 7 points, tiebreak at 6-6