To serve or receive? That is the question.

‘Up or down?’

‘M or W?’

‘Lines up or lines down?’

Only the professionals have an umpire flipping a sparkly, shiny coin.  For the rest of us, we ask one of the above questions and spin our rackets. If we guess correctly we get to choose one of four options:

  1. Serve
  2. Receive
  3. End of the court
  4. Let your opponent decide

The two main choices are whether to serve first or receive first.  Option 4 of letting your opponent decide is just a weird one. Surely, if you’re a tennis player, you have some decision making skills! And why would you choose an end of the court if you don’t know whether you’re serving or receiving?

The question now is which to do – serve or receive? Well… do you have a big serve? Does it win you a lot of free points? Is it reliable? Actually, you know what? It doesn’t matter. Choose to receive. If you lose the game no problem, you are on still on serve. If you win the game, however, now you have a chance to consolidate the break on your serve and give yourself a solid footing to go on in the set.

Choosing to receive first lets you get your eye in. All the pressure is on your opponent to hold serve so you can use this game to get your footwork going, play long rallies to work your way into the match, focus on your game plan etc. You can work on your match play all you want in practice but when it comes to the real thing it is difficult to be focused and ready right from the get go. You need a few points to be aware of how you are feeling and playing on this particular day and you also need a few points to see how your opponent’s game is shaping up.

So what should you focus on when receiving serve for the first time?

  1.  Make them play; don’t give any cheap points away. Get your return in any way possible: block it, slice it, anything that makes your opponent hit another ball and gets you into the point.
  2. Play long rallies. Don’t go for too much until you know how you are playing.  Give yourself a big margin for error – aim high over the net and well inside the lines.
  3. Concentrate on winning the first two points of the game. If you can be 0-30 up you have a good chance of winning the game and at the very least making it competitive right from the get go.
  4. Footwork, footwork, footwork.  Concentrate on getting your feet in the right place so that you can hit on balance anywhere in the court. Once your footwork clicks into place everything else becomes that much easier.
Regardless of whether you have broken or not you need to make sure you win your first service game. To do so, concentrate on making your first serve (take some pace off and add some spin if you have to), hit your spot on the serve and focus on winning the first two points.
And then take it from there.



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