A Reader Asks, “Why is Zero Called Love in Tennis?”

Answer: Many Point to Game’s French Root for Answer
 
This spring we asked you, our readers, to submit sport-related questions you wanted answered. Out of the many responses, we chose one from Christopher Agnew of Erdenheim, Penn. He wanted to know why zero is called love in tennis. With his mom a devout tennis fan, this question has befuddled him for years.
 
If it’s any consolation, Christopher, tennis scoring has perplexed many, including some of the game’s leading players. When Billie Jean King first learned that the first two points are 15 and 30, she (like most of us), figured the next point would be 45. When told that it was actually 40, she is reported to have asked, “What is this sport?”
 
Another tennis great, Andre Agassi once said that the points’ names were “Invented to cause frustration to those who chose to play.” Still, you have to like a sport where the word “love” is bandied about so frequently.
 
Love = A Goose Egg
 
While there is no definitive source on the subject, it is believed that “love” may be derived from the French word l’oeuf, or the egg. Before you think this a silly way to note score, remember that in American English, we frequently use the term “goose egg” to denote zero. Why “l’ouef,” rather than “goose egg?” Because many believe the game originated in France, perhaps as early as the 12th century. When the game was adopted by the English, “l’ouef” was assimilated into “love” because the pronunciation for the two terms are close. “Love” has stuck ever since.
 
Clock Face Explains Scoring
 
To understand the rest of the points, you have to picture a clock face and the minute hand. Four points are needed to win a match and a clock is dived into quadrants: 15, 30, 45 and 60 and these might have been the points except for the fact that a game must be won by two points. Therefore, the first three points advance the hand to 15, 30 and 40. If both players are at 40 points, that’s called deuce, meaning two points are needed to win the match. The next two consecutive points advance the hand by 10 minutes each, first to 50, then to 60, which would still have the game finish at the 60 mark.
 
One more bit of trivia, Christopher: It is believed “tennis” evolved from “tenez,” or take heed. Think of the “fore” in golf, used to warn those ahead (and sometimes beside) us.
 
If you want to experience a little “love” on the court, be sure to speak with one of our knowledgeable tennis experts at your local Dunham’s Sports store. As with nearly every other sport, tennis equipment and apparel have advanced a great deal in the last few years. With the right equipment, you could learn to love tennis and the cardiovascular workout it provides.
 
-Tennis is My Racquet
 
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Advancements in Tennis Racquet Technology

Certainly, there are a lot of factors that contribute to whether you hit the ball like Roger Federer or Serena Williams—or whether you can hit the ball at all for that matter—but as is the case in most sports, the equipment plays a big part in how well you play the game.
 
In the past several decades tennis racquets have undergone some significant changes. From the size of the racquet and the materials it’s made with, right down to the way it’s strung; just about every aspect of the racquet has seen some technological advancement.
 
Let’s talk about size first. Unlike years ago, when there was typically only one racquet size, today, there are four distinct head size classifications: mid-size (95 square-inches and below); mid-plus (100-107 square-inches); oversized (108-120 square-inches); and super-oversized (122 square-inches or larger). So, what does this mean to the average player? Put simply, the bigger the head size, the larger the “sweet spot”, and thus, the better the chances of hitting the ball cleaner and perhaps even farther.
 
That said, according to John Rapson, Wilson Territory Manager for Michigan and Ohio, these days, head sizes are actually getting smaller.
 
“Ten years ago,” says Rapson, “there were a lot of 135 square-inch racquets. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s over 120.” In fact, Rapson says that today, a lot of players are gravitating toward racquets with a 103-110 square-inch head size, as they are less bulky and more aerodynamic.
 
In addition to head size, the balance point—head-heavy or head-light—and grip size of racquets have also changed. A head-heavy racquet (which, if held by the shaft would feel heavier toward the face) provides more power on serves and groundstrokes, while a head-light racquet (which would feel lighter toward the face) provides more control. Either balance point can be easily changed to fit a person’s style of play.
 
Like the racquet balance, the grip size (also easily customized) can affect play style, so care should be taken when choosing one to fit your hand and stroke.
 
“Racquets have become a lot more forgiving,” says Mike Graff, ASPTA and Director of Programming and Operations for Baseline Tennis in Michigan. “With larger sweet spots, vibration dampening and technology that affects how the racquet responds to off-center hits, the average player is going to have a much more enjoyable game.”
 
Now, let’s talk about materials. Do you remember the tennis racquets from the days of Bobby Riggs, Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King? Chances are, they were made of wood. That alone caused a number of inconsistency problems—the most common of which was warping. Gradually, manufacturers started designing racquets with metals like aluminum and titanium, and soon after materials like boron, graphite, ceramics and composites were used. While each material had its own advantageous qualities, ultimately consumers gravitated toward ceramics and graphite because they were lightweight, stiff and had excellent vibration reduction.
 
According to Rapson, while graphites and carbons are the still the most widely used materials—Wilson uses a hyper carbon graphite material called [K]arophite Black in most of their racquets—these days the trend in the marketplace is actually toward a heavier racquet.
 
“The sub-10 ounce frame is out of vogue,” says John. “You have a more stable feel with a heavier racquet, and if you hit the ball off center, it doesn’t twist or torque as much as with a lighter one.”
 
In addition to the size and composition of the racquet, the type of string and the way it is strung has a lot to do with what happens when you hit the ball. A lot has changed with regards to strings—namely the fact that the earliest ones were made from cow intestines—but with time and improved technology, manufacturers have been able to create synthetic strings that are designed to produce more spin, power and durability. Generally speaking, tighter strings give you more control when hitting, while looser strings give you more power.
 
Ironically, with all of the technological advancements in the industry and with so many ways to customize a racquet to fit your game, these days many of the pros play with “off the shelf” racquets. From Federer and the Williams sisters, to Feliciano Lopez and Pete Sampras—who currently plays with a Wilson KPS 88—the same racquets that are making their way to Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are also being used on neighborhood courts and in tennis clubs across the U.S.
 
So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just getting into the game, with so many high-tech racquets available today you’re sure to find a Love Match.
 
-Tennis is My Racquet
 
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