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Tennis scoring for dummies

If you are looking at this article that means one of two things: you either are perusing through the paper for something to catch your attention or you are someone who truly wants to learn how scoring in tennis works. Now do not worry, you will not be judged (Brandeis pun please laugh now) for not knowing how the scoring works. Some have described it as needing a masters degree to fully comprehend what is happening when someone says “four one love all”. This is a safe space for you to learn how tennis scoring works which you can then use to mock your friends for not understanding how this very “simple” scoring system works.

Tennis scoring works almost like a Russian nesting doll with one score having importance inside the larger shell of another score. If you do not know what a Russian nesting doll is then clearly you do not visit your grandparents enough. A Russian Nesting doll is that little bean shaped wooden doll your grandmother has on her fireplace mantle which can be stored inside one another with the smallest doll being the size of your pinky finger nail. Using this metaphor for tennis scoring let us begin with the biggest doll this is the match. In tennis two players, or two teams of two players, compete in a match against each other and try to win the match by being the first to win three sets (a best of five style of play). A set is the doll inside the biggest doll (the match) and to win one set you have to win six games. 

No, I am not making this up to confuse you or make you think that you are dumber than you are—but do not get on your high horse just yet because I said you were not dumb. You are at Brandeis, so you obviously were not smart enough to get into Tufts or Harvard on the first go around. A game is the next doll to be found in the stack, hiding in the set doll. To win a game you have to win five points. The points being the smallest doll in the stack, you begin with zero points, affectionately called “love” when on a tennis court. I do not know why this convention became standard practice but it definitely was not because tennis players needed to get an oxytocin kick to deal with their parents after a loss. 

Love is zero for points and both players begin with “love” as their point score. Then after winning a rally by successfully hitting a shot that their opponent could not get to or their opponent hit the ball out or into the net 15 is added to their points. So, the score increases from love to 15 and upon winning another rally the score goes up by another 15. Now it has gone from love to 15 to 30. Now, I know what you are thinking, “Thomas, so when I win another point in tennis the score then goes up by 15 again!” Hate to break it to you but this is why you got rejected from Tufts, the score actually increases by 10 upon winning another rally. The score goes up from love to 15 to 30 to 40 and when you win one more rally you have won one game! Winning six of those games wins you a set and winning three sets makes you the winner of the match under men’s professional rules!

But not so fast! That is not the end when it comes to scoring because of course it is not. Why would tennis ever let you think that scoring could be so simple? What comes next is how to decide the winner of possible ties in some cases. Let us first begin with deuce. I am sure you have heard the word before when your one tennis friend explained it to you three years ago but you were not listening because you thought it was dumb. Deuce is how a tie is broken to decide the winner of a game. When both players have 40 points they enter into deuce. To win the game from deuce you have to win two points in a row. To signify who has won the first of two points in a row you call “ad in” after winning the rally to signal that you have the advantage in the coming rally and are not a beta. If you win the second point after saying “ad in” then you have won the game! But be warned, deuce can take forever to break as it is harder than you may think to win two points in a row.

The fun does not stop there as there is one more tie that needs a mechanism for breaking and it is called the tiebreaker. A tiebreaker is played at a crucial moment for deciding who will win the set. To win the set you must win by two games, so the score can be six to four with you winning but if the score is six to five then you enter into some more confusing waters—so hold on Jack. A final game is played in the set, if you win and the score becomes seven to five then the set is over and you have won it (yes, a conventional set would go to six) but if your opponent wins and the score becomes six to six then you enter into a tiebreaker. If you hate yourself then you have memorized these rules or will memorize them after reading this article. Tiebreaker scoring runs along the number line with each rally won counting as one point with both players trying to win seven and win by two. Both players start at love and for each rally won add a score of one to their total. When one has won by winning seven rallies then the game score becomes seven to six with the player with seven games won as the winner of the set.

Tennis scoring can be difficult to learn with all the weird rules and customs and believe me many more articles could be written about that, but that is for another day. For now, take this new found knowledge and write a letter to that college that rejected you and show them how much you have learned as a Judge! Because why would you ever want to be a crimson anyways? That just sounds like a bad rash when instead you are now the proud arbiter of justice on the tennis court!

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