March 27, 2023 - How to Win the Choice at the Start of a Match

Technically, a match begins with the umpire tossing a coin to see who serves first. In reality, most matches aren't umpired, and so they "hide the ball" under the table, and the other player chooses. Whoever wins gets the choice of either serving first, receiving first, or choice of side. (Once you make your choice, the other player gets next choice, and so on.) It should be 50-50 who gets first choice - but for an experienced player, it isn't really. Here are a few completely honest ways to increase your chances of winning the first choice.

If you are hiding the ball…

  1. Watch the opponent's other matches and see which hand he typically chooses.
  2. Put the ball in your left hand against a righty player, and vice versa. For some reason, most players are more likely to point diagonally with their playing hand. The exception is if they are holding their racket, in which case they will more likely point diagonally with their non-playing hand.
  3. Slightly flex the muscles of the hand not holding the ball and hold that hand a little lower. Subliminally, opponents pick up on this and choose that hand. Make sure to do the hiding in a nice, smooth motion. If you do it slowly or with obvious care, he'll think you are being tricky and choose the other (correct) hand. Which means, of course, that sometimes you can hide the ball slowly with obvious care and do everything opposite of the above! (I do this sometimes successfully.)

If you are choosing the ball…

  1. Watch the opponent's other matches and see which hand he typically hides it in.
  2. Players tend to hide the ball more often in their serving hand, i.e. not their racket hand.
  3. You can sometimes see a slight flexing in the arm holding the ball.
  4. Players tend to hold the hand with the ball slightly lower.
  5. Watch out for experienced players who cross you up, especially on #3 above!

When I hide the ball and let the opponent choose, using all the tricks in part one, I'm pretty sure I get first choice nearly 2/3 of the time. When the opponent hides the ball, I'm pretty sure I get first choice 3/5 of the time. Of course, this comes with practice - and I've been doing it for 47 years. And, of course, none of this works if the opponent knows you are doing it!