There is no moment in sports more romantic than the beginning of a tennis game, when the score is “love-love” and anything is possible.
“Love” is the equivalent of having a score of zero or nil. When both sides have no score, the game is “love-love.”
From there, tennis scoring goes from odd to batty. One point brings a player to “15,” two to “30”; and three to “40.” The next point wins the game, unless a complex series of tie-breakers comes into play.
There’s no consensus, however, about the origin of the tennis term “love.”
The Oxford English Dictionary surmises the term is rooted in the colloquial phrase “for love,” meaning “without stakes being wagered.” This theory walks in lockstep with the sport’s long history of etiquette and sportsmanship. (Let’s not kid ourselves: Major prize money was at stake during Wimbledon. The women’s singles winner Serena Williams, as well men’s winner Rafael Nadal, who goes by the sobriquet “Rafa,” each took home more than $1.5 million.)
Some etymologists theorize that “love” arose from the French word “l’oeuf,” meaning egg — a “zero” on the scoreboard. This is a clever claim, but appears to remain unsubstantiated.
The word “tennis” comes from the French word “tenetz” — meaning “hold!” — the imperative conjugation of the verb “tenir.” (Spanish speakers will recognize this as a cognate with their infinitive verb “tener.”)
Major Walter Wingfield, who laid down the rules for modern tennis, originally had another name for tennis. He called it “sphairistike,” based on the Greek phrase “skill in playing at ball.” Wingfield most certainly laid an egg with that name.
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