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Guide to Tennis scoring: Tie-breaks/Deuce explained

Featuring big names such as Roger Federer and Serena Williams and four thrilling Grand Slams from Wimbledon to the French Open, tennis is one of the most iconic sports in the world.

The sport has a rich history behind it and the men's ATP Tour and women's WTA Tour continue to captivate audiences across the globe. 

But for those unfamiliar with the sport, the scoring system within tennis can often prove complex and illogical and may even stop some from engaging with it. 

Advantage? Deuce? Tie-break? What do they all mean? 

Here is a look at the tennis scoring system, including an explanation of what some of these key terms mean.

Explanation of tennis 'games' 

Breaking it down to the very basics, tennis operates in three phases - games, sets and matches. 

A game is the simplest of the three and is essentially played until one player has scored four points, unless their opponent is also on four points, but more to come on that shortly. 

A game in tennis begins with one player serving and either player can score, regardless of whether they are serving or not. 

If a serve hits the net cord but is otherwise a legal serve, the word 'let' is shouted and the player serving has another opportunity to serve without losing a point. 

However, two successive illegal serves will cost a player a point. Points can be scored in a variety of ways in tennis but are most commonly awarded when one player strikes the ball legally over the net and into their opponents' side of the court without their opponent returning the ball. 

This is where things can get a little tricky as a point scored does not mean that player takes a 1-0 lead. Instead, the sequencing of points in tennis is unique. 

Both players start on zero points, otherwise referred to as 'love'. One point scored then means a player moves onto 15, so once the first point of the game has been scored, one player will lead 15 to love. 

Two points are then labelled 30 and three points are labelled 40. So if one player has scored three points and the other two, one player leads 40-30. 

Four points will then win a player the game, unless their opponent has also scored four points, meaning the score would read 40-40. This is known as 'deuce'. 

When players are level on 40-40 or 'deuce', the winner of the next point in the game does not win the game but is instead awarded 'advantage'. 

To win the game, they must then take the subsequent point after that. If, however, one player has 'advantage' but their opponent wins the next point, the game returns to 40-40 or 'deuce'. 

The game continues in this way and is not finished until one player has taken advantage and then won the subsequent point. 

It is worth noting there is no limit within the rules of tennis to the number of times players can tie at deuce. 

Once players have competed in a game, the other player will then serve in the second game.

Explanation of tennis 'sets' 

The next phase of a tennis match is something called a 'set'. In order to win a 'set' a player must win six games or seven in the event of a tiebreak. 

To win a match, players will typically need to win two or three sets in total. Some tennis matches are best-of-three set contests, while others, such as matches in men's Grand Slam events, are best-of-five set contests. 

To clarify, if one player has won six games and their opponent has only won four, they have won the set 6-4. 

To win a set, a player must win six games but must also have a lead of at least two games like in this example. 

In all sets apart from the final set - more on that shortly - if the score reaches a 6-6 tie, this triggers something known as a 'tie-break'.

Explanation of tennis 'tie-break' 

A 'tie-break' is used to separate two players who have each won six games in a set and in a 'tie-break' the conventional tennis scoring system of love, 15, 30, 40 etc. is not used. 

Instead, players score one point at a time until one player has reached seven points with a two-point advantage. 

If both players reach seven points, they continue to play until one player has a two-point lead in the tie-break. 

As mentioned, there is no tie-break in the final possible set of a tennis match. Instead, the set continues with games being played one after another until one player has established a two-game lead overall to decide the set. 

This can of course result in long contests with the final set of John Isner's clash with Nicolas Mahmut in 2010 at Wimbledon having finished 70-68 in favour of American star Isner and having lasted for 8 hours and 11 minutes. 

The match, meanwhile, went on for 11 hours and five minutes with play taking place over three days. 

The origins of the tennis scoring system are not known for certain but many believe it originated from clock faces being used to keep score on court with a quarter move of the hand indicating a score of 15, 30 and 45, meaning when the clock moved to 60, the game had finished.

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