What Is Love in a Tennis Match?


The exact origin for the use of the word "love" in tennis is not clear. Many believe it has a French origin, others think that the English first used the term and still others claim it is of Dutch origin. Love in tennis, no matter its roots, means zero, nothing or it could simply refer to playing for the love of the game. It is used to designate the score within a game, within a set and in the final score of a match.

French Origin

  • The most likely story for the origin of the term "love" is from the French word "oeuf" which means egg. The French thought that a zero resembled the oval shape of an egg and used the word "oeuf" for "no score" or zero points. Over time the word became "love".

English Origin

  • Another possible explanation for the term "love" is that as the sport of tennis spread throughout Europe, the English imported the game and they mispronounced the French word "oeuf". Over time it gradually became the word "love". It was also thought that players who scored zero and were not that skilled would play for the love of the game.

Dutch Origin

  • Some claim that the word "love" comes from the Dutch/Flemish word "lof", which means honor. Tennis matches were many times played for money and when players were unable to win and scored zero points, the expression "omme lof spelen" would be used. This meant that a player "played for the honor" or in other words, played for nothing.

Score Within a Game

  • The score within a game is announced at the beginning of each point. Players start with zero points at the start of each game and this would be announced as love, love. The points of a tennis game are 15, 30 and 40. The server's score is always announced first. For example, if the server has won zero points and the opponent has won two points, the score would be announced "love 30" at the start of the next point.

Score Within a Set

  • During a match, the game count is announced prior to the serve of each game. This is the number of games each player has won. For example, if at the start of the third game one player has won three games and the other player has won zero games, the game score would be announced as "three games to love". A "love" set means that a player has won zero games in that set.

Final Match Score

  • At the end of a match when the final score is announced and a player has not won a single game in any given set, the word "love" is used. For example, if a player loses a match and has won three games in the first set and zero in the second, the score of the match is written as 6-3, 6-0. This would be announced as "six three, six love". An expression among tennis players, "getting bageled", refers to a person losing a two-out-of-three set match with a final score of 6-0, 6-0, and this would be announced as "six love, six love".

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  • Photo Credit tennis rete image by Adriano La Naia from Fotolia.com
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