The latest episode of the Tennis Quick Tips podcast is up and ready for you to enjoy. This week's episode is TQT 003 – What To Do When You Win The Spin. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the play button in the gray media player above. You can also listen and subscribe to this podcast in iTunes by clicking here –TQT in iTunes – or in Stitcher by clicking here – TQT in Stitcher.
In TQT 003, I give you a great tip on how you can gain a quick and easy advantage over your tennis opponent by choosing to receive (vs. choosing to serve as most people do) when you win the spin of the racquet at the start of your match. Here are the show notes for this episode:
Almost every tennis match begins with the spin of a racquet. If you win the spin, what do you do? Serve? Receive? Choose sides? Defer? While all of these are viable options, my own choice and my tip to you is that, when you when the spin, you should usually choose to receive.
I’m still surprised by how many recreational players automatically choose to serve when they win the spin. For some reason, most recreational players think that, even at their level, it’s an advantage to serve first. But I don’t think so. And since players like you and I are looking for every possible advantage we can get over our opponents, the decision about what to do when you win the spin is actually an important one.
While we all know that the pros usually choose to serve first, the pros are playing a different game than us recreational players. Most tennis pros have incredible serves that are well-warmed up by the time they start a match. But you and I aren’t pros and our serve, especially at the start of a match, is not the advantage for us that it is for the pros. In fact, I’d say that for many recreational players, the serve can be one of the weakest parts of their games. And even if you have a super serve, there are still some advantages to forcing your opponents to serve first.
So, with this in mind, when you win the spin, I say choose to receive. Here’s why:
First, believe it or not, you can sometimes earn a little psychological edge over your opponent by choosing to receive first. Most players expect that when you win the spin, you’re going to choose to serve. So when you choose to receive, they wonder just what’s up. Even at my level, playing 3.5 to 4.0 ladies tennis, I’ve had opponents act confused or even flustered when I tell them I choose to receive first and they realize the burden of serving first has just been placed, by me, on their shoulders.
Second, by receiving first, you force your opponent to serve cold. In the warm-up to most recreational matches, you only spend a few minutes on your serve. Maybe you get to hit 5 to 10 serve on each side of the court. Maybe. Probably less. So by making your opponent serve first, you’re forcing them to serve while they’re still stiff, tight and probably still a little jittery.
Third, by receiving first, you’re giving yourself more time to warm-up, relax and get into the game. This extra little “warm-up” time can be a nice advantage when you finally step up to the base line to hit your first serve of the match.
Fourth, if your opponent wins their serve and you lose that first game, it’s really no big deal. That’s what’s supposed to happen. There’s no pressure on you to win the first game because you’re not serving. You can lose that first game and you’ll still be on serve.
Finally, if your opponent loses that first game, well, that IS a big deal. You’ve just earned a service break right at the start of the match putting you in a very advantageous position in the first set. Theoretically, as long as you hold serve going forward, you should win that set. And you may have even earned a psychological advantage over your opponent since they’ve now started off the match by losing their serve.
Now, I do have an exception to this “choose to receive” policy.
If it’s really sunny outside, I may choose to pick which side of the court I want to start from, instead of choosing to serve or receive. In that situation, it may be more valuable to me to start the match with the sun at my back and force my opponent to start out playing into the sun. If my opponent chooses to receive in this situation, then I get to serve with the sun at my back. If my opponent chooses to serve first, which can actually happen, then I’m in the best of all worlds – my opponent will be serving the first game, un-warmed-up with the sun in their face.
And I’ve actually seen this happen in my own matches. For example, here’s what I do when I play matches on my own neighborhood courts. My neighborhood courts are laid out weirdly – with the length of the court running East West instead of North South. This means, if you’re playing an early morning match on these courts and you’re facing east, you’re literally staring into the sun on virtually every shot. So what I do when I play on these courts is, first, make sure I grab the bad side, looking into the sun, for the warm-up. And then, if I win the spin, I choose to begin the match on the other side, the side my opponent just warmed up on, with the sun at my back. Then I don't care what my opponent chooses because, whether they serve or receive, they're looking into the sun. Surprisingly, many of my opponents will choose to serve after I’ve picked my side. So now my opponent is starting the match, possibly serving to start the match looking into the sun, and having never hit a ball from the bad side of the court. I’m not saying this alone has won me any matches, but it’s a tiny advantage that I always try to take.
One final note, if you’re playing doubles and you want to choose to receive, you may need to let your partner know why you think this is a better choice. I find that when I explain to my own partners why I think we may benefit by forcing our opponents to serve first, they quickly adopt this as their own new policy in their match play.
So, how can you take action on this tip? Easy – start choosing to receive when you win the spin. Pay attention to what happens in those initial games – whether your opponents are able to hold their serves or not and how much better you yourself serve when you start that second game. I think you’ll quickly see that choosing to receive is the right choice when you win the spin.
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Thanks for helping me in this fun, new project and, as always, Happy Tennis!