Who invented Tennis Scoring? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Have you ever wondered why the scoring system in tennis is the way it is? You go from love, to 15, to 30, to 40. Compared to just about every other sport out there, it’s a strange scoring system to be sure. That said, tennis scoring history is a fascinating ride. So let’s find out how tennis scoring is the way it is!

Who invented tennis scoring?

The tennis scoring system was invented by the French in the 12th century. Back then, it was still a primitive form of tennis known as jeu de paume / the palm game. The reason the scoring system seems so strange is the French were said to use the clock face to determine the score (15, 30, 45, and 60). 

However, the lack of clocks with minute hands during that era means the creation of tennis scoring is a little trickier to figure out.

Tennis scoring’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Medieval France
    Invented the tennis scoring system

    Potentially used the clock face to help determine the scores for the palm game, which would eventually evolve into tennis.

  • Major Walter Clopton Wingfield
    One of the pioneers of outdoor/lawn tennis

    Invented lawn tennis and started marketing it around 1875. The rules in his instruction manual had the games consist of 15 points, which were called aces.

  • All England Croquet Club
    Merged old and new

    When the All England Croquet Club decided to hold a tournament with the brand new game, they made the decision to join the rules together. It was when the rules for love, 15, 30, 40, deuce, and 60 were introduced to the new game.

When was tennis scoring invented?

The tennis scoring system was invented for the palm game in the 12th century. The exciting thing is how the numbers match the clock face, making it the obvious answer to why tennis scoring is so odd — and yet it isn’t conclusive.

A brief history of tennis scoring

As stated above, the palm game’s rules was how the tennis scoring system came to be. The issue lies in the lack of overall evidence that it was the clock face behind the overall scoring system. During the medieval period in France, the only clocks at the time measured in the hours, ranging from 1 to 12. It wasn’t until 1690 when the clock had the more accurate minute hands, which is why the scoring system’s origins are so inconclusive.

That said, there’s so much about the history of tennis scoring that’s fascinating. For example, why is the zero in tennis scoring known as “love”? There are multiple sources with different theories regarding the use of such a term. One theory states that it’s playing for love, a term that means to play without stakes — which means love is zero. Another states that love comes from the French term zero, translated as le ouf. Put together, it sounds like love.

Another theory involves the palm game, where a player would move 15 feet forward after the first two scores, then only 10 after the third score. It matches 15, 30, and 40 as the modern tennis scoring system.

The All England Croquet Club’s decision to start merging the rules together is how the current system for tennis came to be. The scoring system itself is much older, but the tennis we know and love today is inspired by the medieval scoring system — strange as it might be.

The tennis scoring timeline

  1. 12th century
    The invention of the scoring system for the palm game

    With the palm game’s emergence, the scoring system found in modern tennis is devised

  2. 1875
    The invention of lawn tennis

    Major Walter Clopton Wingfield started marketing his new game of lawn tennis.

  3. 1877
    The First Wimbledon or All-England Championship

    The very first Wimbledon Championship from the All England Croquet Club merged the medieval scoring system with lawn tennis, creating modern tennis as we know it today. 

Where was tennis scoring invented?

It was invented during the 12th century. The sequence of numbers is more than a little odd, though there are snippets of historical proof here and there giving clues as to why it was invented.

Why people love the tennis scoring system

  • The most exciting scoring system for modern sports

    There’s no denying that tennis holds the distinction as having the most exciting scoring system in the world of modern sports. It’s something that people still talk about to this day, especially when it comes to the overall history.

  • A historical debate that continues to this day

    The strangeness of the tennis scoring system continues to be an interesting topic of contention. People are still looking for historical proof definitively tying the tennis scoring system to a specific event, but so far it’s only a collection of literature pieces here and there with vague tie-ins.

  • A more exciting game

    Modern tennis rules are all about getting to the top of that clock face, so to speak. No matter how many points you might get, a tennis match can stretch to a very long time due to the deuce system.

  • A “love” for tennis rules

    There’ll always be someone asking about why the zero in tennis is known as love. The same thing for deuce, and why it goes 15, 30, 40 instead of 14, 30, 45. It’s a fascinating subject.

Tennis scoring by the numbers

  • 0Known as love. Also known as le ouf, or zero, in French. Also known as playing for love. An interesting aspect of tennis scoring that always gets attention.
  • 50One of the most important numbers in tennis scoring, yet also one that doesn’t really get as much screen time as the others. It’s often known as the advantage, but it’s technically the score you get after 40. 
    The reason why 40 and 50 exist in tennis scoring is to ensure that you still reach 60 at the end of the game!
  • 11The number of hours it took to play the world’s longest match of tennis. It’s a little hard to believe, but the crazy match was fought between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.
  • 1965The year the tiebreaker in modern tennis scoring was invented. The tiebreak isn’t used by every tennis open, however.
  • 60Another crucial number in tennis scoring, a score of 60 wins you the game. That said, to get that 60 you’ll have to score twice consecutively when you reach deuce (40).

Five facts about tennis scoring

  • 45 in a ballad

    One of the earliest references for the tennis scoring system comes from a ballad in 1435, created by Charles D’Orleans. It refers to the number 45 (quarante cinque), which eventually gives rise to the modern 40.

  • Getting to 60

    One of the reasons why the tennis scoring system went to 40 instead of 45 was the concept of getting to 60. Players would score 15 points until 40, then they would score only 10 points until 60, which wins the game.

  • The introduction of no-ad

    The deuce gave rise to the advantage, where each player could potentially gain an edge over the other while scoring during a deuce. However, it would return to deuce if the opposing player scores. The introduction of the no-ad (no advantage) was used to shorten matches.

  • Handicap tennis

    One fascinating tidbit involves giving lesser-skilled players an advantage over the other in terms of points. Such a rule allowed players of varying skill levels to still provide competitive and entertaining matches.

  • Losing by winning

    Did you know that you could potentially lose a game of tennis despite scoring more points overall? When John Isner beat Nicolas Mahut in the longest game of tennis recorded, Mahut still had the overall lead at 502 to Isner’s 478.

FAQ about the tennis scoring system

  • Why is there no 45 in a game of tennis?

    The scoring system of tennis goes from love, 15, 30, 40, advantage, winning point. Technically, it would be 15, 30, 40, 50, 60. The reason why there’s no 45 is to keep the game within the number 60 without causing too much confusion. While there’s contention about the clock faces being used in the original scoring system, modern tennis wants to keep the clock face system as much as possible.

  • How is it possible to lose a game in tennis yet score more points?

    It has to do with the scoring system and the number of sets. If the winner scores more sets yet scores less points within the sets they lose, the losers will end up having more points by the end.

  • What is an ace in modern tennis?

    The ace is basically a serve where the opposing player is unable to connect with the racquet. 

  • Do you think they’ll make any more changes to the tennis scoring system?

    Considering that the scoring system of tennis hasn’t changed since its inception — or at least since it was used in the Wimbledon Championship, it’s highly unlikely. The tennis scoring system is so interesting that it will continue to be a topic of discussion.

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