Even seasoned players often get confused about when to change ends. The basics are simple, but it does get more complicated! Here is our guide to everything you need to know
The first rule of changing ends is simple to remember. You change ends when the number of games played adds up to an odd number. In other words after the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th etc game has been played. This rule applies in both singles and doubles.
At the end of a set, the same maths applies. If the number of games played adds up to an odd number, eg 6-1 or 6-3, you change ends for the next set.
What can be confusing is that you always change ends after the first game of any set, even if you switched ends when the previous set finished.
During a tie break, you change ends when the score adds up to 6 or multiples thereof, ie at 4-2, 6-6 and so on. When the games add up to six, whoever is serving will have served one point from one end and will serve his or her second serve from the other.
You always change ends at the end of tie break. A tie break is considered as one game for scoring purposes. It is always recorded as 7-6 (with the tie break score in brackets). As 7 and 6 add up to an odd number, you change ends. For serving purposes, keep thinking of the tie break as a game, so the person who served first in the tie break will receive in the new set.
Choice of ends
You decide which end you start from after the toss. Whoever wins the toss can choose one of the following: to serve, to receive, the end they wish to start from or that they want their opponent to decide any one of these things. If the person who wins the toss chooses something other than which end to start from, the other player can choose the end.
If for any reason the match is stopped after the toss but before play begins (a rain delay for instance), when you come back to play, the result of the original toss stands, but new choices may be made by both players/teams. So if you chose to serve first previously, you can change your mind and choose an end. It might make all the difference if the sun is now shining!
Can you use all this to your advantage?
In doubles, it is worth remembering that each individual serves from one end only during a match. So it might be worth discussing with your partner who, for example, will be the one always serving into the sun. In every new set, you can change if you wish (or if it’s not working out).
In singles, it’s different. You will have to serve (and receive) from both ends. But as the serve tends to be weakest at the beginning of a match, if you have the option you might consider trying to make sure it is your opponent who has to serve into the sun on his or her first serve.
What happens when it goes wrong?
The general rule for correcting errors in tennis is that all points previously played shall stand, and you correct the error as soon as you realise it has happened. So if a player serves from the wrong end (or wrong side) of the court, move to the correct end (or side), as soon as someone notices. But all the points stand! This could mean that you end up serving from both ends of the court in one game (if you notice the mistake mid-game.
What about the pro game?
The pros have 90 seconds at the change of ends, two minutes at the end of each set and no rest after the first game of a set and during the tie-break change of ends. In Local Tennis League matches we don’t enforce these rules and if both players agree, social interaction is encouraged! But this should not be abused. If one player wants to get on with the match, don’t deliberately delay things.
In team events where the captain is on court, he or she can make full use of the change ends to buck up their player/s. But it is not allowed during tie break games or at the change of ends after the first game. In a Local Tennis League match, you would need the express permission of your opponent to bring on a coach!