But Seriously, How Does Tennis Scoring Work?

The term “all” refers to a tied score. For example, if both players have scored one point each, you’d announce that as “15-all.” If both players have scored three points each (so, 40-40), you use the term “deuce.” Keep in mind: The score is announced with the server’s score mentioned first. So, 30-15, for example, means the server has scored two points and their opponent has earned one, while 15-30 indicates the reverse.

How do you win a game in tennis?

This is where it gets a little tricky. Looking at the score breakdown above, it appears the fourth point wins the game. And that’s true—sometimes.

Yes, a player must score at least four points to win a game. But if you’re at the point of deuce (so you and your opponent have scored three points each, making the score 40-40), then one player has to nab at least two points in a row to win, per USTA.

That’s when two other terms come into play: “ad-in” and “ad-out.” If you’re serving and you win the point after deuce, it’s ad-in (or your advantage). If you score another point while it’s ad-in, you win the game. Flip side: If you lose the deuce point, it’s ad-out, and if your opponent earns the next one after that, then they win the game.

Scoring two points in a row after deuce is a pretty smooth path to victory, but it doesn’t always shake out that way. If you bungle a point when it’s ad-in, it goes back to deuce. If your opponent scores a point next, it’s ad-out. If you fight back with a point after that? Well, then we’re back to deuce again. So the game continues…and continues, until either of you is able to net two points in a row.

Okay, but how do you actually win win?

Glad you asked! Like we mentioned, players need to win enough games to win a set, and then win enough sets to win the match overall.

How many games and sets are “enough”? When it comes to sets, players typically must nab at least six games by a margin of two in order to win a set. So if you’ve come out on top of your sixth game, while your opponent has only eeked out a victory in four or fewer, then you’ve taken the set.

One slight complicating factor, though: If both players each win six games in a set (6-6), then the set becomes a tiebreaker. The rules are slightly different here: A player must win at least seven points by a two-point margin or greater in order to win the tiebreaker and thus the set overall. If the score in a tiebreaker gets to 6-6, the player must nab two points in a row to win. (Tiebreak sets have a bit more nuance, too, depending on whether you’re playing singles or doubles or if you’re in certain big-name competitions. If you’re curious to know more, check out this handy guide from

Okay, so that takes care of games and sets. Which brings us to the final piece of the puzzle: the match.

A player needs to win two sets out of three, or three sets out of five, to win the match overall. Women in all the big-name tournaments compete for two sets out of three, and, in most cases, men do three sets out of five (though there are some exceptions—again, has more on these nuances.)

And that’s match point! (a.k.a, a wrap for this guide). While we couldn’t delve into all the little intricacies of tennis here, hopefully you now have a better basic grasp on how the sport works. One of the best ways to put your newfound knowledge to the test? Tune into all the exciting big-name competitions coming up—and liberally sprinkle some of these cool new tennis terms into your watch party.


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