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.”
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?”
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.