Vs. Tennis Scoring

Posted: July 17, 2011 in Games and Toys
Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s the deal.  Tennis scoring is a mess.  For anyone who doesn’t already know, you start the game at “love” – your first point puts you at 15, which is followed by 30, 40, and one more point wins it for you (unless your tied, we’ll go into that in a moment). 

The first problem is referring to a score of zero as love.  No one wants to have zero points.  It’s a bad thing.  But love is a good thing.  That’s like saying, the Angels routed the Marlins by a score of 7 to ice cream.  If you’re going to refer to zero with a noun, it should be something undesirable, like “graffiti,” “mildew,” or “bad hair day.”  Not love.  I suppose, still, for losing tennis players it’s better to have loved and lost…

Then, of course, there are the seemingly randomly assigned point increments.  Cecil Adams (who finds the answers to just this type of quandary for a living) explains it thusly, “Tennis scoring has its origin in medieval numerology. The number 60 was considered to be a ‘good’ or ‘complete’ number back then, in about the same way you’d consider 100 to be a nice round figure today. The medieval version of tennis, therefore, was based on 60–the four points were 15, 30, 45 (which we abbreviate to 40) and 60, or game.”

Tennis Balls and Hopper

Image by JCtennis.com via Flickr

This raises more questions than it answers.  Sixty was a good number?  What is it now?  Why has sixty been so devalued over the centuries?  I’ve got nothing against sixty.  And how do we “abbreviate” 45 as 40?  What does that mean?  Excepting desperate housewives, no one abbreviates 45 as 40.  Furthermore, players will often “abbreviate” 15 as 5 when they call out the score.  I pity the child of tennis playing parents who is trying to learn math.

“Okay, Tommy, what’s 45 plus 15?”

“Well, 45 equals 40 and 15 equals 5, so 45 plus 15 equals 45, right?”

Poor kid.

And, on top of all this, when players are tied at 40 or above, it’s called “deuce.”  So, they got fifteen points, an additional fifteen points, ten more points and now they have a total of….two?  From this point on, numbers are tossed out entirely (I suppose because the pattern would just be too complex to keep track of…15, 30, 40, 2 would be followed by 55, 70, 80, 4?) and replaced with “advantage in” or “advantage out.”  I’ll tell you who’s at a disadvantage, the sports fan who is attending their first tennis match.

What’s wrong with the simplicity of, say, baseball?  Where a team’s first point is referred to as “1” followed by “2” and, you’re probably picking up on the pattern, “3.”  Or, if you’re going to assign random numbers to your scoring, at least keep them consistent.  If your kid grows up watching football, they’ll learn how to count by sevens way before multiplication tables are taught at school.  And if there are varying numbers, it should relate to degree of difficulty.  In basketball you get one point for shooting in your own sweet time, undefended, a normal shot’s worth two and a shot from 23 feet, 9 inches or farther is worth three points.  In tennis, it would seem that a player’s third point has less value than either of their first two.  It simply doesn’t make sense. 

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I simplify this tennis numbers racket?  I could start attending all of the Opens and, before the announcer calls out, say, “40-15,” I could yell, “It’s three to one!”  But that seems like a lot of work.  Maybe if I start saying 15, 30, 40, 60 every time I mean 1, 2, 3, 4 they’ll start to understand how strange it really is. 

“Have you seen the new 40D movie?”

“We celebrate our nation’s independence on July 60th.”

“You know what they say, it takes thirty to tango.”

Yep, if we all start talking like this, I don’t expect it’ll take too long for tennis players to come to their senses and adopt a more user-friendly scoring system.  Join me, won’t you?  It’s as easy as fifteen, thirty, forty.

  1. Michelle M says:

    I remember having to cover tennis for my college’s newspaper. At first I knew absolutely nothing about it, got even more confused by the scoring, and I just filled the story with random quotes from the coach. Quality journalism, I think. By the way, it took me 40 years to graduate. Most people take 60, but haha, not me.

    • Makya McBee says:

      I wrote a humor column for my college newspaper…that way I didn’t have to worry myself with “facts,” “integrity,” or “good writing.” It took me the full sixty years to graduate…and I was pretty much coasting the last seven and a half years.

  2. I don’t know, I don’t have much patience with a game that your head is saying “NO” all the time that you are watching it. Maybe they could think of a way to make the ball go vertically so you can have a positive “YES” while you are enjoying the game. That’s negative from the start!

  3. wesleysnyder says:

    If you delve into it a bit further, you find even more strange-ness…

    The term love was an English bastardization of the French word l’oeuf, meaning “the egg”, because a 0 looks like an egg.

    AND, if you lose a set 6-0, you have bageled, because the 0 looks like a bagel. So it starts as an egg, and magically changes to a bagel. Craziness.

    Of course, tennis was started by the French, about 900 years ago, and they were all hungry because they hadn’t invented french fries and french toast yet… Wait a minute, those aren’t really French???

    • Makya McBee says:

      Elizabeth – The only sport I can think of that would have you saying, “Yes,” would be high diving. A strange and valid point you make, thank you.

      Wesley – My research indicated that there is some question about the “egg” thing, but, true or not, it adds yet another layer of trouble to the tennis scoring – and, yes, I never even got into sets and matches. Why, when you win your first set, are you not up 15-0 in sets? They suddenly revert to normal counting. And, lastly, I could really go for some French toast.

  4. beckyyk says:

    “7 to ice cream”

    I’m totally going to use that next game I play.

  5. roxyhart1973 says:

    I was never that strong a mathmetician. I would suck at tennis. I would end up throwing my racket at the judge. Probably why John McEnroe was angry all the time. He was so scared of the scoring method. More than likely he was crying on the inside.

    • Makya McBee says:

      I think he was actually crying on the outside (much easier to see that way) – don’t let tennis make you underestimate your own math skills, no one knows how to count by fifteens/tens/twos/ones.

      • roxyhart1973 says:

        Oh, that’s what McEnroe was doing. I will try to learn the whole fifteen/tens/twos and ones way of scoring/adding/subtracting/possibly dividing. Then I can impress my tennis buddies. I will actually have to get tennis buddies. But once I do find them, I will impress them with my scoring knowledge. Then they will raise me up on their shoulders and we will walk through the streets cheering and they will have a parade in my honor.

      • Makya McBee says:

        It can be difficult to find your first tennis buddy, but soon you’ll have fifteen and then thirty and then…you get it, it’s another tennis scoring joke, hurray!

  6. Luda says:

    I still don’t understand the scoring, and as far as I can tell you explained it well enough.

    But you DON’T want love, right?

    • Makya McBee says:

      Correct. Like a bitter divorcé, tennis players look skeptically at love and hope to put it in their past.

      Unless you were asking if I wanted love, separate from the tennis issue. Then the answer would be, yes…a guy can dream, right?

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