Tennis Scoring for Beginners

Simple Introduction to Tennis Scoring for Beginners

By: Jeff Cooper

Playing a game

To put the tennis scoring system as simply as possible, one must win:

  • four points to win a game
  • six games to win a set
  • minimum two sets to win a match

In this example, we’ll call the players or teams A and B.

The Serve

By winning a coin toss or a spin of the racquet, player A gets to choose one of the following — to serve first or to receive first. The loser of the coin toss gets to chose which side of the court they would like to start playing (this is advantageous if the sun is on one side of the court). Let’s say player A chooses to serve. Player B then gets to choose an end of the court. Player A may serve from anywhere behind her baseline between the right singles sideline and the center mark. The serve is done by tossing the ball into the air and striking it with the racquet. The serve must be struck before the ball bounces, and it must land in the service box diagonally opposite her. She gets two chances to get a serve in. If she misses both, she loses the point. If a serve that is good BUT nicks the net on its way in, it is redone (called a LET). If Player A gets her serve in, Player B must return the ball, after exactly one bounce, into any part of Player A’s singles court.  Player A and Player B must then return the ball, after no more than one bounce, into one another’s singles court (or doubles court if playing doubles) until one of them misses. Player A will serve from the left side of her baseline for the second point of the game, and she will continue to alternate right and left for the start of each point of the game.


Keeping points in tennis is not immediately understood by a beginner player.

  • zero points is called Love
  • 1 point is called 15
  • 2 points is called 30
  • 3 points is called 40
  • 4 points is called “game”
  • you must win a game by 2 points
  • if both teams get to 3 points a piece, it is called 40 – 40 or deuce.
  • if at deuce, the server wins the next point, it is called Ad-In as the ADvantage is IN the server’s favor. If the server wins the next point, the server has won the game. If the server loses the next point, the score reverts to deuce.
  • If at deuce, the server loses the next point, it is called Ad-Out as the ADvantages is OUT of the server’s favor. If the server loses the next point, the server loses that game.

Let’s say Player A wins the first point. At the start of the next point, she must announce the score, her point total first: “15 – love.” (Love = 0.) Player B wins the next point: “15 all.” Player B wins the next point: “15 – 30.” Player A wins the next point: “30 all.” Player A wins the next point: “40 – 30.” If Player A wins the next point, she wins the game. If Player B wins the next point, the score is “40 all,” which is called “deuce.” At deuce, one player must win the next two points to win the game. If, at deuce, Player A wins the next point, she has the advantage, and the score is called “ad in,” which means server’s advantage. If Player B had won that point, the score would have been “ad out.” If the player having the advantage wins the following point, he or she wins that game. If the player with the advantage loses the point, the score returns to deuce. With traditional scoring, games can go back and forth from deuce to ad over and over.

Line Calls

How do you know when a ball is considered “out” or out of bounds? If you are serving, it is when your serve does not hit IN the service box diagonal to your serve. WHO gets to make that call? The person or team RECEIVING the serve. Once the ball is in play, WHO gets to determine whether the ball bounces in bounds or out of bounds? The player CLOSEST to the ball gets to make that call. Can an observer who is NOT playing in the match make the call? In a “recreational” setting, NO. If you are playing a “sanctioned” tournament (like the ones you get to see on TV), the linesman gets to make the call — not the player. What if a ball barely touches the line — is it good? A ball that is 99% out is 100% good. What if you cannot tell if the ball was 100% out? If you cannot tell if the ball was out, you have to call it good.

Change Over

Change over means that each team changes court sides on the odd number of games. So when the first game is played, players will switch places. If for the first game, Player A was facing the sun, at the end of the first game, Player A will switch court sides so the sun is behind them. Change overs happen on the odd number of games — 1, 3, 5.

Playing a Set with a Tie-Break

At the end of the first and every odd-numbered game, the players switch ends of the court, and the player who served the previous game now receives serve. The server always begins a game by serving from the right. At the start of each game, she announces the number of games each has won, starting with her own score, for example, “3 – 2.” Once a player has won six games by a margin of two or more, he or she has won the set. If the score within a set reaches 6 – 6, the players may either continue to try to reach a margin of two (such as 8 – 6 or 9 – 7), or they may play a tie-break to decide the set. In tournament play, this choice will have been determined in advance, but recreational players often choose whichever option appeals to them at the moment. In a standard “12-point tie break” (best of 12), one player must win seven points by a margin or two or more. The player who received in the game preceding the tie-break serves the first point of the tie-break, starting from the right. The other player then serves the next two points, the first from the left, then the second from the right. Each player continues serving two points per turn. Points are scored with counting numbers (“1, 2, 3 . . .”). When the point total reaches six and each multiple of six, the players switch ends of the court.

Starting a New Set

If the previous set ended with an odd-numbered total of games, the players switch ends to begin the new set. (A tie-break counts as one game.) They will switch ends after every odd game through each set. At the start of a new set, the player who received in the last game of the previous set (or received first in the tie-break) now serves.

Completing a Match

In most tournaments, the first player to win two sets (best of three) wins the match. In a few events, such as men’s Grand Slam tournaments, one must win three sets (best of five). Where time or fitness impose limits on the length of matches, a tie-break is sometimes used in place of a third set. Recreational players often keep going until they’re exhausted, even if one of them has won four sets in a row. There is a book called “Friend On Court” It is helpful to have in your tennis bag for those times when you have a question that cannot be answered.

  Here is a link to the ITF Rules of Tennis. It is a comprehensive overview that includes some of the “odd” tennis situations.

Here is a list of good things to pack when playing tennis.

___ Tennis Racquet

___ Can of Tennis Balls

___ Water Bottle

___ Power Bars

___ Sweat Towel

___ Wrist bands

___ Hat/ / Visor

___ Sun Glasses

___ Sunscreen

___ Bug repellant

___ Snacks

___ Chair

___ Over grip

___ Sweatshirt