What does LOVE in tennis really mean?

As we approach Valentine’s Day ideas of love fill our hearts, but what about the meaning of ‘LOVE’ in tennis—does it really mean nothing?

There are several theories as to how the word ‘LOVE’ came to represent zero points in the tennis scoring system, and as lovers of the game we have a few ideas of our own…

“The term might be rooted in the colloquial phrase ‘for love’, meaning ‘without stakes being wagered’. This theory reflects the sport’s long history of etiquette and sportsmanship. Others believe that ‘Love’ arose from the French word for egg, ‘l’oeuf’, because a zero on a scoreboard resembles an egg. Or, ‘Love’ could have been adapted from the phrase “to play for love”. Meaning that, if you have no score then you must be playing for the love of the game.”—The Oxford Dictionary 

We often hear the double meaning “Love means nothing in tennis”, which refers to both the score and the steely drive necessary to win at the professional level. This may be so if playing tennis is your high-stakes career and you stand to lose or gain millions. But what does it mean for those of us who play a few times a week with friends or compete at a local league, and have nothing to lose but our pride and nothing to gain but a cup of coffee and a handful of berries at the end of a match?

Perhaps this theory, proposed by a few die hard tennis enthusiasts about the meaning of ‘Love’ in tennis, is worth considering:

“The score of LOVE-LOVE in tennis means everything. It is the purest form of love—the beginning. This is when hope is great, the possibilities are limitless and the opponent is just another player there for the joy of the game. As soon as the first ball is struck, however, and the game progresses, the score advances and the battle begins. This is when a physical and mental struggle disrupts the balance and shifts the emphasis from love of play towards winning. The opponent stands in the way of the ultimate goal, and therefore must be challenged and eliminated—all be it politely (most of the time).

Tennis belongs to the individualistic past—a hero, or at most a pair of friends or lovers, against the world.     

Jacques Barzun

Playing tennis is not always a perfect or rewarding relationship. Uplifting one moment and devastating the next, it can mean the difference between a great day and a miserable disposition. “If you see someone coming off court without a grin on her face—she is a woman scorned by tennis… avoid eye contact and flee the scene.”—Suzie, J.  This constant inner struggle players face is where the love comes into play.

If you’re a champion, you have to have it in your heart.

Chris Evert

It is the love of the game, that stirs the desire to win and the perseverance to come back after a loss. Inevitably, we learn more from our losses than our wins, and have opportunity to improve. There’s beauty in the idea that we can always begin fresh at LOVE-LOVE, which keeps the game alive, builds a lasting passion for the sport and strengthens our character.

Tennis has given me soul.

Martina Navratilova

If we could think of our daily ‘game of life’ in this way—that each day we wake-up, each new project or phase we begin, the score always starts at LOVE-LOVE. Anything can happen as long as we keep playing.

Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love—the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.

Andre Agassi

Happy Valentine’s with Love-Love,
CG TEAM