Tennis Pros have been Saying it Wrong for Decades

Kids have a knack of making you realize that what you’re saying isn’t what you think you’re saying. There are some common phrases in tennis:

  • You “lose the point” when you make an error or when your opponent hits a winner.
  • You “win the point” when you hit a winner or when your opponent makes an error.

In the USTA booklet called “Friend at Court,” the rules of tennis are defined. One section is called “Player Loses Point,” and it goes on to list all the ways that your opponent will be awarded a point.

I was explaining winning and losing points to some kids recently. In my example, I said that Player A had 2 points and the Player B had 0 points. Then Player A made an error and lost the point. I asked the kids what the score was. They said the score is now 1-0. I explained that now the score was 2-1. The kids looked positively perplexed. They said, “but you just said he lost the point.” Then it was my turn to look positively perplexed as it sunk in how deeply embedded is the terminology “lose the point” and how completely incorrect it is. You don’t lose a point, your opponent wins the point.

I have trained myself now to say that you win the point or your opponent wins the point, but it’s a hard thing to remember. I remind my students that once you have earned a point, you cannot lose it. (OK, there is an exception when the score is Ad-In or Ad-Out.) Recently, one of my intermediate students said to a beginner student, “you can never lose a point,” and I was glad to hear her reinforce this concept to the newbie.

Tennis Professionals have been saying it wrong for decades. And kids have probably been confused for decades too. Luckily, my students were brave enough to question it and help us all learn something in the process.