How Tennis Got Its Mysterious 15, 30, 40 Scoring

Out of all the sports, tennis has to have the most weird scoring. First of all, instead of “0,1,2,3 etc” it goes from “love, 15, 30, 40”. I mean, why call “0” as “love”, why start from 15 and then jump to 30 (+15) and then instead of 45, go to 40 (+10)?

Let’s (try to) find out.

The origins of the tennis scoring system is shrouded in mystery and no one knows for sure how we ended up with it. There are several theories out there though, so let’s see the most dominant ones. (the article continues after the ad)

WHY 15s?

The most popular theory on why tennis uses 15 as its base system, is because originally clocks were used to tract the scoring. Because four points needed to win the game, it made sense to divide time in quarters, which meant that the first point would have been 15 and the second point, 30.

BUT WHY 40 THEN?

The quarters theory meant that the third point should have been 45, not 40. So how did we come up with 40 instead? To make it easier for ourselves. Due to the fact that 45 has 2 words “forty five” while “forty” has only one, it was easier to pronounce 40 and that’s why it prevailed over 45.

One also interesting explanation about the 40 anomaly which also derives from the clock face theory, has to do with tied games. When a game reached deuce and, according to the rules of the game, a player needed two points to win instead of one, moving the clock to 45 only allowed for just one move (60). Instead, moving it to 40, allowed for 2 more moves (50 and then 60) which was needed in order for the winner to be determined.

ZERO = LOVE?

This is perhaps the most puzzling question: why zero is called love in tennis? Well, again, we can’t be sure about the origin but the most dominant perception is that love comes from the French L’oeuf (meaning egg). Because tennis is believed to come form the French indoor game jeu de paume (most widely known as “real tennis”), historians tend to agree that English speakers mispronounced L’oeuf  as Love due to the egg’s shape similarity with zero.

Another common theory is that people who are “stuck” at zero play for the “love of the game” hence zero is the “love point”.

It’s important to note once again that all of these are just theories that historians tend to agree upon but are in no case the exact origins of the tennis scoring system. Most probably we will never be 100 percent sure about how it came to be.

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: Why Americans Call It ‘Soccer’ When The Rest Of The World Calls It ‘Football’? 


Main Article Photo: Samsung Nx100 / Max Pixel
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: Lawn and Real TennisQuirks of the Game: How Tennis Got Its Scoring System