It is strange to me that TV announcers never comment on the coin toss at the start of a match and what the winner chose to do … and why. It can have a real impact on the start of a match and as it progresses; but what are the rules and the reasons?
First the rules:
• The coin or racquet flip should take place BEFORE you start warmup; so that the first server is taking practice serves on the side he will start on.
• The winner has THREE choices:
1) to serve/receive or
2) to pick a side to start on or
3) to “defer” and have the other player/team choose
• If the coin-toss winner chooses to defer, the other player/team can choose EITHER to serve/receive or the side to start on (not both).
There are many factors that can come into play on what you choose to do… the sun, wind, lefty/righty matchups, your strengths and weaknesses, and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Some things to consider:
• Choosing to put your opponent in the sun to serve first could be an advantage; but then you will have the next two games facing the sun.
• Brad Gilbert advises singles players in “Winning Ugly” to choose to receive; so that the pressure starts on your opponent’s racquet and you could benefit from a nervous first game with a break of serve.
• When playing doubles with or against a lefty, it is good to defer; so that you can try to arrange the lineup the way you want.
• If you feel your serve is especially strong and consistent, choose to serve.
• If you feel your return of serve is better than your serve, choose to receive.
• If you feel your opponent’s serve is weaker than his return, choose to receive.
• On a particularly hot day, remember the person who RECEIVES serve the first game will have the benefit of the changeover rest to serve his game on the odd score; since the first server always serves the even-numbered games (at least in the first set).
• Playing doubles on a windy day, ask your partner if he prefers to serve with the wind to his back or in his face (most people will have a preference).
So the next time you are getting to have that coin or racquet toss, think about what you would like to do. It could give you a slight advantage in a tight match.