The truth is that there are multiple contested theories – none of which have proven conclusively correct – about why players score 15, 30, and 40 points.
But here, we break down how a full match is played and the theories about why points are counted in such an odd way.
How do tennis scores work?
A match of tennis is split into sections – the match, the sets, the games, and the points. To win a single match at Wimbledon, male players must secure three sets (two for women) of six games, which require four points each. Are you still with me? Let’s break it down.
Players need to score four points to win a game – but rather than a simple 1-4 scoring system the scores are counted as 15, 30, and 45, followed by the winning point. The theories about why this is come later.
Players will often find themselves tied at 40 points each – called a ‘deuce’ – meaning one player has to score twice consecutively to win a game.
Once a player has won a game, they must do this six times to win a set. But there is a twist – a player must win two more games than their opponent to secure the set. For example, you could not win 6-5, you would need to win another game and make it 7-5 to get the set.
This means some matches can last an extraordinarily long time. The longest in history was the Wimbledon 2010 match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which took 11 hours and five minutes and spanned across three days. Ironically, it went on for so long the scoreboard broke.
Once a player has secured three sets (two for women), they have won the entire match. The very same John Isner managed it earlier this week, defeating UK favourite Andy Murray and knocking him out the tournament.
Why are tennis points 15, 30, and 40?
One of the most confusing things about this system is why players score with 15, 30, and 40 points in a game – and not simply one to four. One of the most widely accepted theories on this dates back to medieval France.
It is believed by many that the earliest version of the sport – known then as ‘Jeu de Paume’ – is responsible. The courts back then measured 45 feet each side of the net, with players starting at the back and moving forward each time they scored a point.
The first score would have them move 15 feet, the second another 15 feet, and the third 10 feet. Another 15 feet would see them touching the net and would therefore be completely impractical, so 10 would have to do.
Another theory is that in the early years of tennis, a clock face was used as a scoreboard and the hands would be moved according to the score – a quarter of the way round each time a player won a point.
But why 40 and not 45? The suggestion from some experts is that 40 allowed for ‘deuce’ to be set at 50, with the hand moving onto the top mark when a game was won. This theory, however, has been dismissed by some as the game predates clocks with minute hands.
Now that you’re a Wimbledon scoring system expert, you can watch the 2022 tournament and show off to your friends and family while you do it.
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