In a table tennis game, if you win the toss, which do you choose: to serve or receive?
This article starts off seemingly insignificant but concludes with the main point. You need to read the full article to understand my thought process...
If you are like most table tennis players, you play better when you are winning. Most players want to be winning because they have more confidence in their shots, stay level-headed, and aren’t as easily upset with an unlucky break or bad call from the umpire. If your serve is good, you should choose to serve because statistically speaking, you have a better chance to gain a 2-0 or 4-2 or 6-4 lead in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th games. With confidence in the first game, you have a better chance to win the first game. Winning the first game, gives you a better chance to continue the table tennis match with confidence.
If you have a good serve return, such as the ability to push with spin variation or flip with excellent placement or loop long serves really well, then you should choose to receive serve first. Many of the world’s best table tennis players have been dedicating much more time to serve receive than serve, in recent years. When I was a kid, many top players practiced their serves so much and some a lesser time practicing receiving. Now that the serves have less spin with the 40+ poly ball, much more time has been dedicated to perfecting the receive and slightly less time on serving.
So, which are you? Are you the player who should serve or receive first?
I know that many of you are thinking, “It doesn’t really matter if I get a lead. What matters is the end of the game! Can I handle pressure at 8-8 or 9-9 and win? That’s what matters!” With this mindset, you have a faulty understanding that the point at 9-9 counts as more than 0-0. Really, all the points count equally! Playing carelessly in the beginning then putting tons of pressure at yourself at the end will lead to sloppy play in the beginning and nervous play at the end. You should mentally approach each point the same BUT make tactical adjustments point by point as the match progresses.
Do your absolute best to win every point from the very start! Take measured risks to break out with a 5-1 or 6-0 lead in the first game! You should choose to serve first if you have a strong serve or choose to receive first if you have a strong receive! Every decision you make is important! To warm up or not warm up, to eat breakfast or not eat breakfast, to get 5 hours of sleep or 9 hours of sleep, to choose to serve or receive. Every excellent decision brings you closer to victory!