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Tennis Rules & Scoring

Instructor: Thomas Higginbotham

Tom has taught math / science at secondary & post-secondary, and a K-12 school administrator. He has a B.S. in Biology and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction.

Tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world, enjoyed and watched by tens of millions of people. In this lesson, learn about the rules and scoring in tennis as well as some of the sport's unique language.

Game. Set. Match.

After a decisive loss, or victory, you may hear someone say, 'Game. Set. Match.' Colloquially, they mean, it's OVER (whatever it is they're referring to). In fact, they might not even know the origins of that phrase. However, if you remember that line - game, set, match - you have the framework to understand the rules and scoring of tennis. We'll learn first about some ground rules, and then go into the scoring nuances of tennis. For this lesson, Player A will always be the server, and Player B will always be the receiver. Also, this lesson covers USTA (U.S. Tennis Association) rules.

Winning in Tennis

How do you win in tennis? Well, you win a match. How do you win a match? Well, you win two sets (except in some international tournaments, in which you win three sets). How do you win a set? Well, you win six games by two or more points. How do you win a game? Well, you must win by two or more points. And finally, how do you win a point in tennis? Either your opponent double faults on the serve OR after a legal serve, your opponent fails to make a legal return. The overall game - set - match scoring scheme is described in more detail further on in the lesson.

Scoring Points

Tennis is a racquet sport in which players on opposing sides of a tennis court try to be the last person to make a legal return (i.e., hit the ball over the net to within the opponent's side's boundaries) to win points. Tennis is played on a court with that is 78 feet long and 27 feet wide (36 feet for doubles tennis). The net, which divides the length of the court into two opposing halves, is 36 inches high at its middle, and 39 inches at its ends.

Essentially in tennis, you try to hit the ball to your opponent so that they can't hit it back to you.

Service

Points start with serves. At the beginning of each game, the server hits the ball from beyond the right-hand baseline, and must land the ball into the opponent's left-hand service box. If the server either hits or tosses the ball illegally, steps over the baseline or onto the left-hand side of the court, or misses the service box, the serve is called a fault. The server may hit a second serve if they have faulted on the first serve, but if they fault on the second serve, a point is given to the receiver, and it is called a double-fault. Finally, if the serve hits the net, but then lands in the opposite service box, it is called a let, and the server gets to take the serve again without penalty. The server switches sides of the court every point.

Game Scoring

In tennis, the scores are named as follows:

Point # Tennis Label
0 Love
1 15
2 30
3 40
4 Game

The first person to 4 points wins the game. However, they need to win the game by 2 or more points. A player can win a game by a score on game - 30, but can not win game - 40, since they would not have won by 2 or more points.

Deuce

If the score of a game is tied 40 - 40, instead of saying the score is 40-40 (which would be way too easy), we say the score is 'deuce.' If player A wins the point after deuce, then the score is called 'Advantage - In', or 'Ad - in' for short. If player B wins the point after deuce, then the score is call 'Advantage - out, or 'Ad - out.' If player B wins the point after ad - out, player B wins the game. If player B wins the point after ad - in, the game score returns to deuce, and continues until a player wins two consecutive points (i.e., wins by two).

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