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How do I Keep Score in Tennis?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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For many beginners, the score in tennis can be a bewildering, and somewhat confusing set of numbers and facts. In some cases, it may prevent some from even following the game at all. However, with a simple explanation, it is possible to understand how the score in tennis is kept and keep track of who is winning and losing.

First, one of the most confusing things about tennis scoring is the way the game points are scored. The first point a player wins is noted as “15.” The second point that player wins is 30, then after that is 40. The point the player wins after 40 is called “game” meaning the player wins that game. It takes six games to win a set and usually two sets to win a match.

However, the rules also provide some exceptions to these general scoring scenarios. First, if both players (or teams in doubles) reach 40 points, it is called deuce. From deuce, the player must win two consecutive points to win the game. If the server wins the first point, it is termed “advantage in,” and if the returner wins, it is called “advantage out.” Usually this is shortened to ad in or ad out. If the player fails to win the point on his or her advantage, the score returns to deuce. In most cases, there are no limits to how many deuces a single game can have.

Once a player has won six games, the rules regarding the score generally dictate he or she has won the set. However, in order to win the set, the player must have reached six games by a margin of at least two. If the score of the set is 6 to 5, another game must be played. If both players reach 6 games, a tiebreak is usually played. In most tiebreak rules, the first player to reach 7 points in the tiebreak wins the set, as long as they have at least a margin of two points.

Though many have speculated about where the origins for the scoring system in tennis came from, the truth is no one knows. The most logical theory is the score in tennis is based on the four major points on a clock face -- multiples of 15. However, that does not explain why the third point is 40 when it should be 45. Some speculate that the score 40 came about just a shorthand form of saying 45 and quickly became the standard. If this is true, the winning point, which is not officially named, would logically be 60. This would complete the circle on a clock face, thus complete the game if one were to continue to logically apply the analogy.

Some leagues ignore the general rules regarding the score in tennis and keep score by using single numbers. For example, within a game, the scores would simply be 1, 2, 3, 4. The first person to 4, winning by two, wins the game. Likewise, if both players had 3 points, the score would continue counting up by ones until someone was able to build a margin of two points.

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Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Jan 12, 2014

I know people who have been playing tennis for years and have never bothered to learn how to properly keep score. Some of them may have attempted to learn at one time, but decided learning to keep count wasn't worth the effort.

By Animandel — On Jan 12, 2014

I think many people are discouraged by the scoring system in tennis. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how do you keep score in tennis, I would have more than a few dollars.

In all seriousness, I think the game of tennis loses potential players and fans simply because the scoring appears too difficult. Of course, once you learn the system it's a piece of cake.

By Drentel — On Jan 11, 2014

When I played tennis in college we often used what was termed no-ad scoring. This meant that once you scored 4 points the game was won regardless of how many points your opponent had. There is no deuce in tennis when score is kept this way.

When you're accustomed to traditional scoring no-ad games seem to fly by. With the traditional scoring, I feel like I am never out of a game or set because of the 2-score margin needed to win. Like baseball, one of the great aspects of tennis is there is no clock ticking away to end the match.

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