Why Do They Say Love Instead of 0 in Tennis?

Scoring in tennis is sometimes quite confusing, isn’t it? If you listen more closely during a tennis match, you will notice that the umpire reads out the score after each rally.

You will hear an expression like “Love Fifteen”. You can probably tell from the course of the game that “Love” means zero. But where does the term come from and what about the other numbers in the scoring system?

Origin of Love in the Scoring System

The exact origin of the expression “Love” is still unknown today. Altogether there are three theories by which the expression could have originated.

1. Love of the Game

According to the first theory, the term comes from the expression “to play for love”. More specifically, the phrase means that tennis was not played for money, but exclusively for the love of the game.

2. Game for the Honour

In the second case, the term could also have been derived from the Dutch word “lof”. It refers to “honour” on the tennis court. According to this, although you have lost a point, you kept on playing tennis because it was mainly about honour.

3. The Egg as the 0

The third theory states that the French word “l’œuf” (in English “egg”) was the decisive factor for the English term “Love”. The French compared the zero with the shape of an egg and named the score after it.

Origin of 15, 30, 40 in the Scoring System

After we have looked at the history of the term “Love”, the question now arises as to how the numbers 15, 30 and 40 came about at all. The origin of this scoring system is also not known exactly. There are two theories on this subject.

1. Distance to the Net

On the one hand, it is assumed that this scoring system can be traced back to the predecessor of tennis, the jeu de paume. In the early days of the jeu de paume, the court was divided by several lines. Each of these lines ran parallel to the net at a distance of 15 inches.

If a player had won a point, he moved forward by 15 inches. Accordingly, after the second point he was 30 inches closer to the net and after the third point 45 inches. But since the player was then too close to the net, the distance was reduced to 40 inches.

2. Game with Money Stake

On the other hand, the numbers might have something to do with the money spent at the jeu de paume at that time.

Thus, for every point won, you got a coin worth 15 “Dernier”. Afterwards there were 30 Dernier and afterwards 45 Dernier. Later, the 45 was replaced by the number 40, because its pronunciation is easier and shorter.

Now you know why points are scored in tennis in this way. On the following page you will learn how the scoring system works in detail.

Learn more about the scoring system