If you've tuned in to catch Serena Williams in action at the US Open but are feeling a little confused by what's going on on the court, don't fret. Tennis scoring can seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, you'll feel like a seasoned fan. Here's a primer on scoring as the tournament heads toward the finals — so you can keep up with the matches!
- Each tennis match is made up of two to three sets. To win a set, you must win at least six games.
- The games are scored starting at "love" (or zero) and go up to 40, but that's actually just four points. From love, the first point is 15, then 30, then 40, then game point, which wins the game.
Starting the Game
- To determine who serves first, you flip a coin or (more likely) spin a racket. Whoever wins the toss gets to decide one of four things: that she wants to serve first, that she wants to receive first, which side of the court she wants to start on (in which case, the opponent chooses who serves first), or that she wants to leave the choices up to her opponent.
- Whoever starts serving continues to serve until that game is over. Then the serve moves to the other player.
- You serve from behind the baseline, starting on the right-hand side of the court, anywhere between the singles sideline and the center mark on the court.
Scoring the Game
- Before serving, you should announce the score, with your score first, then your opponent's. So if you have zero and your opponent has 30, say "love-30."
- Every time you serve, you get two tries. The serve must go over the net, land in the service box opposite you, and bounce once before your opponent returns it.
- If it doesn't land in the service box, you take a second serve. If the second serve also misses, then you lose the point.
- If your serve grazes the net but still lands in the service box, the serve doesn't count, and you must take that serve over. This is called a "let."
- If your serve goes in and the opponent returns it, you continue hitting back and forth until someone hits the ball into the net, hits it out of bounds, or misses a shot. If that person is you, then your opponent gets a point. If it's your opponent who hits it into the net/hits it out of bounds/misses a shot, then you get the point.
- Whoever is serving continues serving until the score reaches 40, calling out the score before every serve.
- If the score is tied at 40 ("40-all"), that is "deuce," which is essentially another word for tie. To break the tie, someone must win two points in a row. If you are serving at deuce and you win the next point, then you say "my ad," which means "my advantage." If your opponent wins, it goes back to deuce, and someone again must win by two points in a row. Yes, this could go on forever.
- Once the game is over, the other person serves. After odd-numbered games (so after game one, game three, game five) you switch sides on the court.
Scoring a Set
- Before the first serve in each new game, whoever is serving announces the score in sets. Say your score first, then your opponent's. So if you won the first set, you would say "1-0."
- To complete a set, someone must win six games; the first person to win six games wins the set.
- However, as with "deuce," you must win a set by at least two games. So, if the score is 6-5, the person with 5 must win by two games. If the score ties at 6-6, you play a tiebreaker.
Scoring the Match
- The whole shebang is called a match. The match is determined by the best two out of three sets. So if you win two sets, you win. If you each win a set, then you play a third set to determine the winner.