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“I eat tennis balls for breakfast”
The accepted scoring system for international tennis was devised by Mrs Edith Algebra of Beaconsfield, England, in 1847. Before that year, old-fashioned British tennis players, who wore long baggy clothes and said “By Jove” at least 175 times in every match they played, used to have a proper 1-to-10 scoring system for each game, which was entirely sensible and commendably easy for adults, children, and retards to follow. We could have carried on for centuries without a squeak of complaint. But after her Ovaltine was spiked with crack by a Jehovah’s Witness in 1847, Mrs Algebra got to thinking about tennis and decided it needed “a kick up the ass”.
Initially she wondered if it might be fun to change the size of the ball, so that it was 10 times as big as each of the players. When this caused a marked increase in tennis injuries, she changed her mind and decided to make the sport a team game, with 140 people on either side of the net. Her other bright ideas included replacing the net with the Berlin Wall. This was an extraordinary idea, marking her out as a prophetess of sorts, as the Berlin Wall would not be built for another 114 years. When players complained that they couldn’t see their opponents over the high stone wall she had erected, Mrs Algebra came up with some wacky ideas for esoteric scoring systems to confuse both players and spectators of her beloved game. At first she thought a 5-10-15-20-25 scoring system would be nice, but then she decided it wouldn’t be weird enough. So she invented the bizarre 15-30-40-deuce system, because she particularly liked multiples of 15 – with the exception of 45, to which she preferred the more elegant 40, because that was her age at the time.
All you need is love
Mrs Algebra also decided to change the words that usually indicated a zero score in tennis – “nothing”, “zero”, “nada”, “zilch” and “fuck all” – to “love”. She chose this word because that’s what it meant to her at that somewhat miserable stage in her life: you see, she was in love but she was convinced it would come to nothing. She was right about that. She fancied the bus driver Reg Varney, but he only had a twinkle for pretty younger females. Some of them under 12!
By Jove, it caught on
Mrs Algebra took her idea to Wimbledon, where in the first few months there was considerable chin-scratching among players and spectators alike. A few days later, for reasons that are still as mysterious as the whereabouts of Lord Lucan and the appeal of Lost, her new scoring system spread like wildfire in a forest that had been systematically dried for a century by a million hairdryers. There were some teething problems, however. Little children initially misunderstood “deuce”, believing that commentators were periodically calling for a fruit drink, commentating being thirsty work. And some women flounced off court because they thought they were being patronised by being called “love” all the time.
Mrs Algebra was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Algy Algebra of Trigonometry Lane in the village of Calculus, Bedfordshire. She was known as “a difficult woman” by her family and her enemies (she had no friends, because she was difficult). If someone said “white” she would say “black”, and if someone said “black” she would usually say “negro”. She was therefore the ideal person to invent a scoring system that is the pottiest in the whole wide world. “Nobody else in the history of this planet could have come up with such a cussed and silly scoring system for this otherwise marvellous game,” said the famous diarist Samuel Pepys in a letter to his milkman. “Two pints today please, and a tub of double cream.” Mrs Algebra eventually died, as people who invent things always do.
The curly-mopped tennis brat John McEnroe, hearing about Mrs Algebra’s new scoring system many years ago, famously said: “You can’t be serious.” But she was.
Everybody’s happy nowadays
Tennis players big and small, male and female, young and old, professional and crap, all use Mrs Algebra’s ridiculous scoring system today, and are perfectly happy with it. “I’m all for it. It keeps the bloody riffraff out of the game,” said the grand old Duke of Kent yesterday. “Where the fuck does the word ‘tennis’ come from, anyway, you cunts?”