A Simple Introduction to Tennis Scoring for Beginners

Learn the basic procedures for playing a tennis match

Tennis player serving
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Scoring in tennis is not as difficult as it may seem: To put the tennis scoring system simply, you must win:

  • four points to win a game
  • six games to win a set
  • two (or, more rarely, three) sets to win a match

But learning how to tally the scores — and even to keep track of all this during a fast-paced match — can seem daunting if you are a beginner. Learning a few basic requirements can help you keep score effortlessly as you work to improve your game.

Read on to find out how.

Starting a Game

By winning a coin toss or a spin of the racquet, you get to choose whether you serve or receive the serve. If you choose to serve, your opponent gets to pick which side to start on; this may seem like a small concession, but if the sun is shining in your eyes, starting position can have a great influence on the outcome.

To serve, you start from the right side of the back of the court, called the baseline. If you serve first, your opponent must return the ball, after exactly one bounce, into any part of your singles court. You and your opponent then continue to return the ball back and forth — which is known as a volley. When one of you misses, or if the ball bounces more than once on one side of the court, the opponent wins the point.

Scoring Points

You will serve from the left side of the baseline for the second point of the game and continue to alternate from the right to the left side of the baseline for the start of each point of the game.

If you're fortunate to win the first point, you must announce the score: "15 - love." (Love = 0.) This indicates that you have won one point. The server, in this case, you, always announces his own score first. (In tennis, each point counts as "15," and additional points are counted in increments of 15.)

So, if your opponent wins the next point. You announce: "15 all" — meaning you and your opponent are tied, each having scored a point. If your opponent wins the next point, you would announce: "15 - 30," meaning you have 15 and your opponent has 30. The rest of the game might play out as follows:

You win the next point: "30 all."

You win the next point too: "40 - 30."

If you also win the next point and win the game.

Two-Point Advantage

But not so fast. You do need to win a total of six games to win a set, but you must win each game by two points. So, in the previous example, if your opponent would have won the point after you were up 40-30, the score would then be tied, and you would announce: "40 all." You would have to continue to play until one of you has a two-point advantage. 

That's why, if you've ever watched a tennis match on TV, you may have felt that some games seem to go on endlessly. Until one player achieves a two-point advantage, the game will go on ... and on. But, that's what makes tennis fun. Once you have won six games, you've won a "set." But, you're not done.

Starting a New Set

If the previous set ended with an odd-numbered total of games, you and your opponent switch ends to begin the new set.

You switch ends after every odd game through each set. At the start of a new set, in the above example, you served first. So, your opponent would get to serve to start the new set.

In men's professional tennis, players generally must win three out of five sets to win a match. (In other sports, you might equate this to winning a game, but in tennis, the winner of the contest between two opponents must win not just a game, not just a set, but the entire match.)

In women's professional tennis, players generally must win two out of three sets to win the match. If you're a beginner, do yourself a favor: Whether you're male or female, decide that the victor will be the player who wins two out of three sets. You're tired feet — and the tennis elbow you avoid — will thank you.