How Scoring Works in Tennis: A Beginners Guide

For many beginning tennis players, the fun of the sport is getting some exercise out in the sun and focusing on hitting the ball consistently over the net. This is a perfectly fine way to enjoy the sport, but after a while, you will start to get the urge to keep score! Keep reading to discover how scoring works in tennis!

Scoring in tennis is unlike any other sport, which means you may need to do a little research before keeping score for the first time. With that being said, picking it up is like riding a bike and you will be sounding like a professional in no time!

Here is what you need to know when scoring your tennis matches as someone learning to play the game.

Tennis Players

Tennis scoring

Tennis scoring is broken down into four major categories. Going from smallest unit to largest, you count the points, games, and sets to determine a match winner.

Points are the smallest unit of scoring in tennis. You win a point every time your opponent fails to return the ball in the court on your side of the net. Points are scored going from 0 to 15 to 30 to 40.

Games are the next unit of scoring in tennis. To win a game, you must win 4 points (unless the game goes to deuce, which we will cover later).

They make up a scoring unit called a set. To win a set you must win 6 games, though you must win by 2 games. For example, if you win 6 games and your opponent wins 3 games, you have won 1 set. In most levels of tennis you must win 2 sets to win the match.

Match is the overarching term to describe a complete session of tennis.

how scoring works in tennis

Those four terms are pretty straightforward and easy to keep track of. Where the scoring gets a little bit tricky are in special circumstances such as deuce or tiebreaks.

Deuce” is a term used to describe a score in a game where both players are tied at 40-40. Deuce is a pretty common occurrence throughout a tennis match.

Once the score gets to deuce, you must win TWO points in a row in order to win the game. When a player wins a point at deuce, the score is read “advantage *insert player name*”.

For example, if the score is 40-40, the server would call out “deuce” before serving the ball. If the server wins that point, it is his/her advantage. Should he/she win that next point, they win the game. If the opponent were to win that point, the score goes back to deuce. Theoretically, you could have unlimited deuce scores during a game.

how to finish a set

Another scoring wrinkle you will want to be aware of is how to finish a set. If you win 6 games while your opponent has won 4 games or less, you have won the set. If you win 6 games and your opponent has won 5 games, you must keep playing to decide the winner of the set.

If you each get to 6 games won, you will then play a first to 7-point tiebreak to decide the set winner. During this tiebreak, you will switch off serving to make sure it is fair.

Here is an example:

Player A has won 5 games, Player B has won 5 games. Regardless of who wins the next game, another game must be played as you must win a set by 2 games. If Player A takes a 6-5 game lead, they can win the set by winning the next game thus making the set score 7 games to 5 games.

For instance: if Player B wins the next game, each player will have won 6 games. At this point, to avoid playing a never-ending set, a tiebreak is implemented to decide the set winner.

To win the tiebreak you must win 7-points, finishing by winning by 2 or more points. The way the serving works in a tiebreak is as follows.

Player A serves once, Player B serves twice, Player A serves twice, Player B serves twice, and so on until a winner is decided.

A group of people playing tennis

Reading this may seem a little bit complicated, but once you get out there and get some experience with it, you will pick it up quickly.

It helps to play with someone who is confident in scoring as you can pick up on how they keep score in real time.

Now that you know how to keep score while playing tennis, here are some terms you may hear people say when playing. You will pick up on this lingo the more you play and keep score!

Scoring terms you need to know

Ace: An ace is when a player hits a serve that is not returned by his/her opponent.

Ad: Ad, short for advantage, is when a player wins a point at deuce and is one point away from winning a game.

All: All just means the score is tied. You will often hear a score that is 15-15 called “15 all”.

Deuce: Deuce is the term used to describe the score when it is 40-40. At this point, you need to win two consecutive points to win the game.

Double fault: A double fault is when a player misses the service box with two serves in a row. His/her opponent is awarded the point.

Fault: A fault is when the server fails to hit a serve inside the service box. Faults can either go into the net or miss the service box long/wide.

Game: The second smallest unit of scoring in tennis. One game of tennis is when one person is serving and someone wins 4 points.

Let: A let is when the server hits a serve that hits the net and then lands in the service box. A let is a redo serve.

Love: Love is the term often used when a player has 0 points in a game. If you hear the server say “30-love” this translates to 30-0.

Match: Match is the term to describe a full session of tennis where a winner is decided. In the pro game, most tournaments require you to win 2 full sets to complete a match.

Set: A set of tennis is when 1 player wins 6 games.

Unforced error: An unforced error is the term used when a player hits a shot that goes into the net or out of bounds on a blunder that is not caused by the opponent.

Winner: A winner is a term used to describe a shot that wins a player the point.

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