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Table Tennis Scoring: Why 0 is called “Love”?

In football, the score of 0 is called “Nil”. For example, when England beats France 2-0, it’s called “Two-nil”, but not “Two-Love”. But in table tennis, or in other racquet games (like tennis), the score is called “Love”. Why?

What is the table tennis scoring system?

Table tennis rules state that a player can win a game by scoring 11 points, with one point deducted for each infringement. Every player is allowed to serve twice in a row. The winner is the first person to reach 11 points.

Umpire keep the score correct so the player and the audience can follow the match
Umpire keep the score correct so the player and the audience can follow the match

What happens at 10-10?

What happens when the score of a table tennis game is 10 to 10?

If a score of 10-10 is achieved in any game, each server serves only one point before switching servers. If both players have won 10 points, the game is won by the first player to gain a two-point lead.

A point is scored when a player’s opponent is unable to hit the ball with a racket over the net and onto the other side of the table.

You need to win 2 points to win the game when the score is at 10-10
You need to win 2 points to win the game when the score is at 10-10

A game is won when the first player scores 11 points and is at least two points ahead of his or her opponent.

A match consists of the best of five games.

Is it 11 or 21 points in table tennis?

Until 2001, a table tennis game could be played to a maximum of 21 points. But after 2021, the rules of table tennis have been changed in order to make the game more exciting, to have more “decisive” points, and to make it more appealing to television viewers. Table tennis is now played to a maximum of 11 points.

In the history, table tennis set ends with 21 points. Today table tennis score is 11 points system.
In history, table tennis set ends with 21 points. Today table tennis score is 11 points system.

The Origin of “Love” in table tennis

Firstly, I want to explain to you another example: “May Day”, “May Day, May Day”. Maybe you have seen some American action film, the pilot often says “May Day, May Day” for the last signal for help. But why “May Day”? In fact, it has the origin in French, “May Day” is pronounced very similar to “M’aider” (“Help Me” in French). So then, “May Day” has become the convention signal which signifies “Help Me”, a distress signal.

May Day is French M'aider (Help me)
May Day is French M’aider (Help me)

“Mayday” is easier to be heard than “Help Me” prevent it’s being mistaken for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions.



It shares the same principle for “Love” in table tennis, tennis, or in other racquet sport. “Love” is nicer to call than “Zero”. In French, an egg is “L’Œuf”, which is pronounced very close to “Love”. That’s why “Love” is the score 0 in table tennis.

 

“La Vie Parisienne” 1926! People continues to use French world in racket sport
“La Vie Parisienne” 1926! People continue to use French world in racket sport

0 = “Egg” = “L’Œuf”  (French) Pronounced as “Love”.

“Love All” is the score of 0-0

When you watch ITTF Live, you could hear the umpire often says at the beginning of the set (this is the final match of China Open 2019 – Ma Long vs Lin Gaoyuan):

 

Ma Long versus Lin Gaoyuan. First Game. Lin Gaoyuan to serve. “Love All”.

 

That means “0-0. Ma Long to serve“. And then, if Ma Long wins the point, the score is said: “one – love”, “two – love”, “three – love”.

 

Why is the score 0-0 called Love All in table tennis
Why is the score 0-0 called Love All in table tennis? Does it mean “Love for all players”? 😀

 

However, do you know this? In table tennis, you should avoid winning someone “eleven – love”? It’s not very polite to do that.

But personally, I really love the meaning “Love All” is “Table Tennis is for all. We all love this sport”. 🙂

There is so good funny joke about the score of 0 in table tennis. I prefer this one:

My coach says to me in his first table tennis lesson “Love is nothing in table tennis”. 😀 This is so true.

How to Get a Point in a Table Tennis Game

The game begins with a 0-0 tie, and the server will serve first. Each player gets two points in a row to serve, and then the other player has to serve.

The server must serve the ball in such a way that it first touches his side of the table, then bounces over or around the net, and finally touches his opponent’s side of the table.

A let serve (or just let) is a serve that contacts the net assembly (the net, net posts, and net clamps) on the way, but still touches his side first and then the opponent’s side on the second bounce, and must be replayed with no change to the score. There is no limit to the number of lets that the server can serve in a row.

Umpire has interupted the game and said let
Umpire has interrupted the game and said let

The receiver will then attempt to return the ball over or around the net such that it lands on the server’s side of the table first. If he is unable to do so, the server wins the point. If he does, the server must hit the ball over or around the net so that it lands on his opponent’s side of the table first.

If the server is unable to do so, the receiver wins the point. Play continues in this manner until either the server or the receiver is unable to legally return the ball, at which time the other player wins the point.

When a player wins a point, he adds one to his score. If the score reaches 10-all, both players will only serve one serve apiece until the game is won. The score is read aloud, beginning with the server’s score.

When the first player (or doubles team) reaches 5 points in the final potential game of a match, the players must change ends.

The Ball Is Obstructed

You will not score a point if there is an “obstruction” in table tennis.

An obstruction occurs only when a player touches the ball (with his bat, body, or whatever he is wearing) when the ball is above the playing surface or going towards the playing surface and has not yet touched his side of the court.

(Section 2.5.8) If the ball has crossed the end line, crossed the sideline away from the table, or is traveling away from the playing surface, it is not an obstruction. So you can be hit by the ball in front of the end line and not obstruct it, as long as the ball is not beyond the playing area and going away from the table.



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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

6 thoughts on “Table Tennis Scoring: Why 0 is called “Love”?”

  1. Thanks a lot Coach for such a deep philological explanation of the term “love”. But I am not quite sure, that to win the set with the score 11-0 is somewhat the player should avoid. Liu Shiwen beat Ding Ning with such a score in one set in Budapest and didn’t seem to be worried by that at all. It was clearly seen that she wanted to square all accounts with DN. And she did in style.

    Reply
    • Because Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen have talked before the match. Have you seen the interview after the match? 🙂 In general, this rule applies.

  2. As always another very informative post. Thanks again for this website and all your efforts to improve the game of table tennis.

    Reply
    • Thank you Adel. 🙂 I’ve just watched how Ma Long won the China Open this afternoon. So impressive!

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