There are several ways to keep track of the score in tennis, from junior tennis to adult, recreational to professional, and practice to competitive. Players often make up their own games and scoring system related to the type of tennis they are playing.
Here is a breakdown of the traditional scoring system in a regular two out of three set SINGLES match. Doubles can be a little more complicated so we’ll stick to singles for this article.
You typically start a match by deciding who serves first by flipping a coin, spinning the racket to see what way the logo on the bottom of the racquet falls, or rock paper scissors. One player chooses to serve or receive while the other usually picks the side they want to start on. Once this is settled, the server will start the match and players will switch sides after the first game. Switching sides after one game only happens after the first game of a set. After that, players switch sides every two games. A traditional set is played to six games (I will breakdown a how game is scored later on), however a player may win the set with seven games in certain situations. For example, a set can end 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, but cannot end on 6-5. A 7-5 score will end the set if the circumstance presents itself. However, when the set score is 6-6, you play what is called a 12 point tiebreaker. In a 12 point tiebreaker, the player that received the last game before reaching 6-6 will begin serving. This is where it can get complicated for some players. In a tiebreak, the server will serve the first point, then receive for two points. Players will switch serving every two points (except for the first one) until someone reaches seven by a margin of at least two points. Theoretically, a tiebreak score could end 7-5 (where the name 12 point tiebreak comes from), but cannot end on 7-6. Players will continue playing until someone takes a two point lead. This is why you’ll sometimes see a tiebreak score of 8-6 or 17-15, for example. Once the tiebreak is over, a new set begins and the player that started serving in the tiebreak will begin the new set as the receiver.
Now, how to keep track of a game from point to point. Every game starts at 0-0, or love all (love means zero and all means tie). It’s important to mention that the servers score is always said first so both players and spectators know who is leading in the game. For example, if I am serving and win the first point, the score is 15-0. Subsequently, if I lose the first point, the score is 0-15. So now we know the first increment of points is 15. If I have 15, the next score would be 30. We can have scores ranging from 30-0, 0-30, 30-15, 15-30, or 30-30. The next increment is 40 points. Let’s say we’re at 30-30, I am serving and win the point, the score is now 40-30. If I lost the point, the score is? You guessed it! 30-40. Now the player that has 40 points has the opportunity to win the game by winning the next point. However, if this point is lost, the score is DEUCE (40-40). At this stage, a player must win a point to receive the advantage, then win a point while having advantage (score) to win the game. Let’s visualize. We’re at deuce, I’m serving and win the point. The score is now ADVANTAGE server (or ad-in). I lose this point so now we go back to deuce. My opponent plays a brilliant point and gets the advantage or ad-out when the receiver has it. My opponent wins this point and wins the game. If I was able to pull off that last point, we would go back to deuce and keep playing until one player has the advantage and wins the point. It’s not uncommon to see games go to several deuces in a tight match. That’s why there is no time limit to complete a match in tennis.
Lastly, I want to mention the logistics of the tennis court in relation to the scoring system. If you are in the centre of the tennis court, facing the net. The right side on the tennis court is your deuce side, and the left is the advantage side. This is an important detail as you cannot start a point on the same side two points in a row. A game will always start on the deuce side of the court.
The scoring system can be frustrating when we’re using our mind space to learn the game, that’s why simplified versions exist. However, if you’re keen on playing the official way, this is the way to go.
Good luck out there!