Originally, tennis was played with much smaller racquets, white balls, and on actual grass across the pond in England. It evolved over a few centuries into the sport you know today; however, traditions still dominate much of the game. To new players, the most obvious tradition can be seen in the rules.
Tennis matches are broken into sets, and each set is comprised of games. Generally, men play for the best of five sets, while women play for the best of three. The most notable exception to this tradition was when Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs played the Battle of the Sexes in 1973. Riggs believed that he could beat the number one-ranked woman in the world, King, on the basis of his sex alone. In challenging her to a match, he demanded that they play with the typical men’s sets. King won the match in three sets.
A set is won when one person (or team, in a doubles match), wins six games, with at least a two-game lead. For instance, 6-4 is a set, but 6-5 is not. If the score becomes 6-5, another game is played. If the leader wins the game (making the score 7-5), he wins the set. If his opponent wins (making the score 6-6), a tiebreak is played, and the winner of the tiebreak wins the set. A typical men’s match final score may look like 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, which was also the final score of the King/Riggs match mentioned earlier.
How do you keep track of the score within a game? This element of tennis is perhaps the most unusual. The player who is serving (in other words, starting the ball into play) calls out the score loudly before serving the ball. Listening to the server or to the chair umpire during a professional match, you would hear these terms:
Love: At the start of every game, each player is at love, which means zero. Why this strange term? No real answer is available, but it is probably either a strange version of the word “l’oeuf, which means egg in French or to start playing for the love of the game.
Fifteen, thirty, forty: The first point won makes the score 15/love, or love/15 (the person who is serving’s score is always said first). A second point won? Thirty/love. A third point won? Forty/love. Why such seemingly random numbers? Again, there is no one answer, though the numbers may represent the Roman numerals on a clock, with 45 having been shorted to 40. Note: when trying to use the scoring method,
it might be easier to think of the numbers (15, 30, 40) as a representation of where you stand in the game (ahead by one point, ahead by two points, etc.), not a literal numerical equivalent of the score. If the score is 40/love, 40/15, or 40/30, and the server wins the point, he wins the game. If the score is 40/40, you are at the deuce.
Deuce: If you and your opponent have been neck-and-neck in the game, each winning three points, and you’ve reached 40/40, this score is referred to as deuce. The term “deuce” is from the French word “Deux,” meaning having to gain two points to win the game, more or less. Like with winning a set, you have to be ahead by two to win a game. So how do you keep score now once you have already used 15, 30, and 40?
Ad-in or ad-out: The ad is short for advantage. If you watch a formal tennis match, the chair umpire will say, advantage Miss King to indicate who is ahead after having been at deuce. The use of Miss King or Mr. Riggs is used in professional matches (obviously, insert the names of the players in the match at hand), but in non-umpired matches, people generally say ad-in or ad-out.
Ad-in is if the server is ahead, while ad-out is if the non-server won the point after deuce. The ads are only ever used after deuce has been reached. If the player with the advantage wins the point, he wins the game. If not, the score reverts to deuce the only time a score ever goes backward in tennis. The game keeps going until the player with the ad wins the point. In this way, a tennis match can last a very long time, much like baseball.
So, you win points in tennis in order to win games. If you win six games (and are ahead by two), you win a set. Winning sets gets you a match (how many sets depends on if you are playing best of five or best of three sets). While playing tennis, the most important rule is simply to stay within the white lines.
If you are playing doubles (four people on the court), you have the entire space within the white lines to use (the doubles court). If you are playing singles (two people on the court), you have a slightly more narrow rectangular space because you don’t use the allies, or the farthest left and right sides of the court outlined in white.
The only time you need to worry about aiming the ball in something other than the entire court is when you are serving or starting the ball into play. In that instance (you and your opponent take turns serving every other game), you have to get the ball into one of the squares on the opposite side of the net. Which square? You alternate serving sides with each point, meaning the first point of a game you serve from the slightly right side of the court into the opposite box on your opponent’s side.
The next point you serve from the left side, hoping to make it into the other box. Since you are now aiming for a smaller space, you get two chances to get the ball into the correct box. Though it may appear complicated, tennis, like all other sports can be boiled down to a couple of simple points: don’t lose track of the score and stay within the lines.