The service in table tennis is an art and players who are capable to deliver good table tennis serve, often dictate the game.
It is the time when you have total control of the game. You can serve to the weak point of your opponent and go for a third ball attack. If your opponent is close to the table, you may opt for a long and fast serve. If he is not close to the table, your best option may be the short backspin serve.
It all depends on your style of play. Like, if you are strong in forehand, you should serve in a way that you receive the ball on your forehand side.
Variety in your table tennis serve is also an important criterion to deceive the opponent.
And from where does the variety come? It’s the spin in table tennis. To become a good server, you have to understand the concept of spin. The successful application of various spins in your service will help you to dominate the game.
Let’s start from the basics.
What is a Service in Table Tennis?
Service is the starting point of any rally in the game of table tennis. To do a valid serve you can hit the ping pong ball either in forehand or backhand to make the first bounce on your side and the next bounce on the other side.
Before you master your serve technique, it is important to know the rules for legal table tennis serve. Otherwise, a faulty serve will always hurt you and may spoil your game.
Table Tennis Serve Rules
To deliver a legal service, you have to follow the official rules. I am quickly going through the basic table tennis serve rules.
1. Place the Ball on Your Flat and Open Palm
Before serving, you have to place the ball on your stationary hand. The palm of your stationary hand should be open and flat. You can not hold the ball with your fingers.
2. Toss the ball near vertically for a minimum height of 16 cm (6 inches)
You have to toss the ball near vertically so that it reaches a minimum height of 16 cm (6 inches). You are not allowed to impart any kind of spin to the ball.
3. First Bounce Must be on the Server’s Court
When the ball is falling, strike it so it touches first your court. After touching your side, the ping pong ball must fly over the net to make its second touch on the opponent’s court.
For Double’s game, the ball must touch the right half of the server and receiver’s court.
4. Strike the Ball Behind the End Line and Above the Playing Surface
At the time of delivering your service, your body and the ball must be behind the end line of the table. The ball should also be visible to your opponent. You can not hit the ball below the table, it should be above the playing surface.
Types of Table Tennis Serve
There are numerous serves in table tennis where spin acts the dominating role. So before going into the details, we should review the effect of spin in table tennis.
When you brush the ball at different contact points, it makes different types of rotation of the ball relative to its axis. This is the spin of the ball. If you are a right-hander and brush the ball at the top, it rotates counter-clockwise which is a topspin. If you brush the ball at the bottom, it rotates clockwise which we refer to as an underspin or backspin.
For sidespin, you have to brush at the side of the ball, which will make rotation about the vertical axis. If your bat moves from right to left, it is the left sidespin and the reverse is the right sidespin.
Depending on the type of spin which varies with racket angles and contact points, we often call topspin, backspin or sidespin serve.
You should start with the type of service that you feel comfortable with and try to vary spin. After getting total control, switch over to another service and try to learn that in the same way.
Here, I am giving an overview of seven common serves.
- Half Long
- Long Fast
Forehand Table Tennis Serve
This is the basic table tennis serve that a beginner should start with. At first grip your racket properly, it may be a Shakehand grip or a Penhold grip. The forehand side of your racket should face towards the net.
Then toss the ping pong ball and strike so that the first bounce is on your side and after flying over the net, the ball drops on your opponent’s side of the table. Keep your angle of the bat in such a way that the ball bounces over the net with a minimum height.
PingSkills has a great video on Learning basic serve techniques.
After learning the basic forehand table tennis serve, you can do it with sidespin and underspin or topspin with sidespin, which we call pendulum service.
Backhand Table Tennis Serve
In backhand serve you have to hit the ball with the backhand side which is the reverse of the forehand side of your racket. After doing a backhand serve, it is relatively easy for you to get back to the ready position.
To deliver your backhand serve, you can stand at any position. You can deliver short backspin serve to resist your opponent from attacking. You can mix sidespin with backspin to move the ball away from your opponent or you can opt for faster topspin with sidespin to disguise your opponent.
The above video is a nice explanation by Tom Lodziak on pendulum serve. It is the most popular service in the world of table tennis. It is like a forehand serves mixed either with backspin and sidespin or topspin with sidespin.
For delivering pendulum serve, swing your bat sideways from right to left and contact the left side of the ball. When you contact the ball on the left side, the ball moves in the right direction. It is also known as left sidespin serve.
In opposite, if you move your bat from left to right to create a sidespin, the ball will move in the left direction. This is known as a reverse pendulum or right sidespin serve.
Check the nice video for a step-by-step guide to developing the right technique uploaded by Table TennisDaily.
There is a great tutorial on tomahawk serve on Youtube uploaded by Adam Bobrow.
The name of this service comes from the Tomahawk axe. Hold the racket in a straight-up position. Stand slightly sideways to get a better swing of your racket. Contact the ball in such a way that you are throwing a tomahawk axe.
Keep your body low, so you can hit the ball at a level of the top of the net. Toss the ball as high as possible to get more effect on your serve. You can hit on the forehand side for forehand tomahawk and the backhand side for backhand tomahawk serve.
Brush the ball at different points to generate different types of spin. Use the same action to produce underspin with sidespin or sidespin with topspin to disguise your opponent.
It is a super backspin serve where the backspin drags the ball towards the net after the ball bounces on the opponent’s side.
The key point of this service is that your elbow should be close to your body. Your bat should be nearly flat and use the front part of your flat racket to create the heavy backspin.
Hold the racket in such a way that your thumb is on the forehand side, the index finger is on the backhand side and the rest three fingers curl on the handle.
Toss the ball high enough so that the ball has more momentum at the time of contact. Use your wrist to accelerate the speed of the racket and brush the ball as low as possible to create heavy backspin. Keep the ball as low as possible over the net to make your service effective.
Before being a master, you need to practice more the brushing action to get the soft feeling of heavy backspin. The key points are
- The bat should be nearly flat
- Use of flexible wrist to accelerate the brushing action
- Use the front part of your racket to contact the ball
- Your elbow should be close to your body
- Contact the ball as low as possible to bounce low over the net
Half Long Serve
In a half-long serve, the ball bounces twice and the second bounce is at the end or close to the table.
After watching the first bounce of your services on the table, your opponent would believe that the ball will go beyond the table and he will make a strong return by the full swing of his racket.
But to his surprise, the second bounce of your service is right at the end of the table and that will disguise him completely.
But if you do a half-long serve too often, then your opponent will aware of it. To make it effective, you have to vary the length of your service and occasionally, deliver this double bounce or half-long serve to take its full advantage.
Fast Long Serve
In this service, after bouncing close to your end line, the ball bounces at the very end or close to the line of your opponent’s side.
In table tennis, the most common serves are short over the net. And suddenly if you use the same action to produce a long fast serve, it will disguise your opponent. He may either miss it or make a weak return.
But remember to use it as a surprise element. If you use this fast long serve frequently, your opponent would predict it and he will make a strong return. The key points are:
- You have to hit the ball close to your end line
- Hit the ball as low as possible
- Use the same brushing action to disguise your opponent
- Hit close to the end of your opponent’s table on the first bounce
- Use it as a surprise element
How to Improve Serve in Table Tennis
- Keep the ball as low as possible over the net. A low-height ball also bounces low which is not easy to attack.
- Toss the ball high enough to get more speed and spin. A high toss ball provides more speed and spins as it has more energy than a low toss ball.
- Keep your focus on the ball when you are serving. Watch the ball closely till the end when you are hitting the ball.
- Increase the racket speed at the time brushing the ball to get more spin. Use more wrist snap and arm speed to increase racket speed.
- Hit at the furthest point from the center of the ball to get more spin.
- Hit the ball with the top portion of your racket for more speed and spin because, at this portion, the speed of the racket is maximum.
- Vary the amount of spin and speed on your serve to deceive your opponent. You can do it by hitting the ball at different portions of your racket and also by using more and fewer wrist snaps.
Table Tennis Serve Tactics
- Don’t serve on the area where your opponent can hit it with ease. Serve in the area where he has to move or reach to make a return.
- Serve more at the weak point of your opponent, it may be the backhand or forehand side.
- Point to the elbow of your opponent’s playing hand, when you are serving. It may confuse him to go for either forehand or backhand stroke.
- Use the same action to deliver a no-spin serve after a heavy-spin serve to confuse your opponent.
- When you deliver a fast long serve, aim to bounce the ball close to the edge of the table where you will get the maximum speed of the ball.
- Make the serve short enough to bounce twice on the table. A double bounce serve is very difficult to attack and gives you the best chance to win a point by a third ball attack.
As I have earlier said, your service is the main weapon to dictate in the game. To make it effective, you need a lot of practice. The combined effect of your technique, imagination, invention and guessing capability will make you a specialist.
The quality of the racket has a great effect on your service. As spin is the main dominant factor to produce an effective service, a good quality racket takes you one step ahead before the start of the game.
In racket games like tennis and table tennis, service may be the deciding factor when it is in tied condition. Prepare with your secret serve like a tennis ace. At 10-10, deliver the secret service to turn the game in your way.