Tennis’ Screwy Scoring System

It’s that time again, around Labor Day, when the US Open Tennis tournament is contested in NYC. The finals are upon us.

I’m sure you’ve always wondered where the bizarre scoring system in tennis originated. This began to rake on me over the last couple of days, so I researched it.

A player receives a score of 15 if he wins a point, 15 more for another point (for a total of 30), and 10 for the next point (for a total of 40). With an additional point, the player wins the game if he has two points more than his opponent in total. So if a player has 40 and wins another point, he wins, if his opponent has 30 or less. Pretty strange, isn’t it?

If a player has 40 and wins a point and his opponent also has 40, the former does not win the game, but has an advantage. If he wins the next point, the game is his.

That was really exhausting. The question of the day is where did this screwy system come from? As a matter of fact it reverts all the way back to medieval days in France when a clock was used to keep score. For the first two points of a game, the score goes to 15 (or quarter past the hour), then to 30 (or half past the hour). To ensure that a player wins by two points the third point is rewarded 10 (taking the clock to 40 past the hour. The score stays at 40 until one player has two points more than the other. I’m not convinced this all makes sense, but it’s what I found.

If both players have a score of 40, it is called “deuce,” which originates from the French a deux le jeu, or anyone can win (with two points in row). The term love, which means a player has no points, is l’oeuf in French. It means egg, which is the shape of a zero.

I think enough time has passed that we should transition to a simpler system. How about one, two, three and four? You agree? Probably not, if you are a purist and fond of tradition. I’m not. But all the scoreboards would need to be adjusted costing a pretty penny.

It’s also interesting to consider a number of other idiosyncrasies of tennis. The first that comes to mind is the misbehavior that is prevalent in many matches. Like most sports some of the players are prima donnas who think they can say and do anything without consequence. Men like John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase were bad boys and notorious for creating a stir at times when things were not going well on the court. There are ten officials making calls at any moment (if I counted correctly), so there’s plenty of opportunity to blow a decision.

One of the most egregious moments occurred during the 2018 Ladies final pitting Serena Williams against Naomi Osaka. Serena lost her mind, and the match, after being penalized for allegedly receiving signals from a coach. She acted in an unsportsmanlike fashion. Even worse, the NYC crowd continued to support Serena, and actually booed when Naomi won points and the match. I was present and was mortified by the behavior of Serena and my fellow NYers.

Tennis has been able to garner huge purses for the major tournaments. And it’s one of the only sports that men and women receive the same compensation. For first place both receive $3.850 million if they win, notwithstanding the fact that the men must win 3 out 5 and the women 2 out of 3. It’s a tribute to those who manage the tournaments that equality has prevailed.

The dress code of tennis is bifurcated between Wimbledon and the French Open, and the US Open and the Australian Open. Whites are required at Wimbledon, and the French are not going to allow certain types of dress prospectively, inspired by Serena Williams’ cat suit incident. The latter tournaments have no strict dress code. Serena this year sported a black onesie that looked like a wrestler’s outfit.

There are other great issues surrounding tennis, but I’ll stop here. The next time, I will reconstruct Rafa Nadal’s routine before he serves and returns a serve that includes a very unattractive underwear pull.