Chapter 12: The Scoring System

In tennis there is a peculiar way of counting points. Adopted in the last century, tennis scoring has been kept almost unchanged because it gives matches a special flavor.

This scoring balances the game in such a way that you always have a chance at winning, even if you have lost every point, until the match is over.

The only significant change in this century has been the implementation of a tiebreaker to avoid marathons and make the game more suitable for TV broadcasting.

The match is divided into segments, called sets. Usually a maximum of three sets are played in a tournament match, while major championships require five sets for men.

Sets are divided into games.

Players alternate serving one game each until one reaches six games, which gives him one set. Sets must be won by a margin of two games. The score can be 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, or 6-4. If the score reaches 5-5 (also called 5-all), it has to be won 7-5. If the score reaches 6-6 (6-all), then the special tiebreaker game will be played and the set will end at 7-6.

If you see a 7-6 result for a set you know the players were tied at six games each and a tiebreaker was played.

Winning a three-set match requires winning 2 sets to 1. The result is either 2 sets to 0 (zero is called “love” in tennis), or if each player wins one of the first two sets, they then play a third and deciding set, and one player will win by a score of 2 sets to 1. This last set is called the “final set.”

In the best-of-five-set matches, a player must win three sets. Therefore, the score is either 3 sets to 0, 3 sets to 1, or 3 sets to 2. Some of these best-of-five-set matches are very long, lasting four or five hours. Usually a three-set match goes from one hour, for the easier matches, to two or two-and-a-half hours.

When a match is started, players first “spin” a tennis racquet or toss a coin to decide who will serve first and which side of the court they will be on for the first game. The winner of the toss has the choice of his preference on one of those decisions. If you decide to serve or return, then your opponent has the choice of side. If you choose the side, then your opponent has the choice of serving or of returning your serve.

Change of side is required after one game, three games, five games, and so on (an odd sum of games) in each set. Most courts are built approximately north-south lengthwise, and the sun angle varies according to the time of the day. The sun’s position will affect players more on one side than the other. Players usually choose the better side for their own first service game.

When you win the toss you also have the right to tell your opponent to choose first. This can be advantageous when a right-hander is playing a left-hander outdoors. The sun’s position will affect one player more than the other on one side, both for serving and for high balls. If you win the toss, have your opponent choose first. If he chooses to return, you choose your good side to serve. If he chooses to serve, let him serve from the side that is bad for him and good for you. By the second game the change of side will have you serving without the sun interfering with your toss. If you break your opponent’s serve in the first game, you are off to a good start.

Let’s say you won the toss and have decided to serve and let your opponent choose sides. Go to the other side, behind the baseline, with two balls in your left hand or one in your hand and one in your pocket.

You will be serving the first game as follows: From the right side of the court serve the first point to your opponent’s service court (crosscourt, to your left, as explained in Chapter 10). If you miss the first serve you get a second one. If you miss the second one it’s a double fault and the point goes to your opponent.

Whoever wins the first point gets the score of 15. The server’s points are called first. Therefore, it can be either 15-0 (15- love) if you won the point, or 0-15 (love-15) if you lost the point.

Now you serve from the left side. If the score is 15-0 and you win this point, you go to 30-0 (30-love). If you lose this point then it is 15-5 (15-all). If you lost the first two points, then it is 0-30 (love-30).

Continue alternating, serving one point from the right, one from the left, going, for example, from 15-15 to 30-15, then 30-30 (30-all). The next point is called 40. Let’s say you win the next point and the score is now 40-30. If you win the following point, you win the game and you are “one-love” in games.

You then change sides of the court and your opponent will serve the next game.

If you get to 40-40 (40-all) it is called “deuce,” and deuce games have to be decided by a margin of two points. After 40-40, the next point is called “advantage.” It will be either “advantage to the server” (also called “ad-in”), or “advantage to the receiver” (“ad-out”). If the player at advantage wins the next point, he wins the game. If he loses it, the score goes back to deuce, and again, two consecutive points by one player are necessary to win the game. There is no limit to the number of “deuces” that can occur in a game.

Each player serves one game until the set is completed, 6-0 or 6- 4 for example, or 7-5. If the score gets to 6-6 (6-all), then the tiebreaker game is played.

The tiebreaker goes as follows: The player whose turn it is to serve will serve the first point from his right side, as usual. After the first point his opponent will serve the next two points, the first from his left side (not his right side as in a regular game), the next one from the right. After that, the serve goes back to the first player, who will serve two points, the first from his left side, the next one from his right.

The serve keeps switching back and forth, with each player serving two points. Those points are counted here one, two, three, four and so on (not 15, 30, 40 as in a regular game). One player has to get to seven points to win the tiebreaker and the set, but it has to be by a margin of at least two points.

If the score in points gets tied at 6-6, then the tiebreaker has to be won 8-6. If it goes to 7-7, it has to be won 9-7, and so on. A tiebreaker final score may be 7-0, 7-1, 7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 7-5, 8-6, 9-7, 12-10, 20-18, and the like. There is no limit to the number of points that could be played in a tiebreaker if there is a succession of ties, but the chances of it going on forever are minimal.

The same rule of calling the server’s points first is used during the tiebreaker in tournament play. If an umpire is calling (refereeing) the match, he will usually add the name of the player serving next when calling the tiebreaker score. For example, he will say “Mr. X, 3 points to 4” (Mr. X will serve the next point).

During the tiebreaker the players change sides after each six points. Therefore, you change after 6 points, 12 points, 18 points and so on. After the tiebreaker is finished, a change of sides is mandatory.

In the first game of the following set, the next player at serve is the player who received the first point of the tiebreaker.

The score of a set that went to a tiebreaker is “7-6” with the points scored in the tiebreaker in parenthesis, for example, “7-6 (10-8)”.

A final score for a match may look like this:

Mr. X 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (10-12), 6-3.The winner’s games in each set are recorded first. Mr. X won the first set in a tiebreaker, lost the second set in another tiebreaker, then won the third set 6 games to 3.