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Courtesy of Lynn's Table Tennis

A serve is not there just to start the rally, but, if used properly, adds greatly to the server’s benefit. At top level table tennis, serves directly account for at least 20% of the points, the “ace”. And the third ball, the one immediately following the return of serve, relies immensely on the effectiveness of the serve. That is to say, if your serve is good enough, you can kill the third ball fairly easily, often regardless of how powerful your opponent is. Waldner is getting lazy these days since he’s been scoring with ace serves all the time. Why bother running around the court?  Just joking.

To be effective, your serves have to be deceptive enough to confuse your opponents. If he always has to "guess" rather than "judge" what spins your serves represent, then you are there. To achieve this, you combine a variety of spins and make them look identical from outside. 

There are many different types of serves of various speed and spins that you can use to enrich your games. Whilst you may easily get lost in a long list of them, they can be basically categorised as follows:

In terms of spins:

  • No-spin

  • Topspin

  • Backspin
    (both can be incorporated with sidespins)

In terms of length:

  • Long serves, second bounce off the edge of the table

  • Short serves, second bounce in the table.

In terms of direction:

  • Long channel (backhand and forehand)

That said, the very basic type to start with is the pair of backspin and no-spin. It’s the very foundation to any other spin serve variations. With a good mastery of it, you will find all the others at your fingertips.

The point here is clear. The backspin and no-spin serves come in pair to manufacture deceptive effects to confuse the receiver. Any player with a half decent knowledge of the game can imagine what will happen if a backspin is misinterpreted as no-spin and vice versa.

Then, how to do it?

To proceed, I presume you are right handed and serve from your forehand.

  1. Your ready position

    You stand to the left of the table. But how far to the left depends on your game style and how confident you are about your forehand. Almost all players of decent standard have their killing power primarily on their forehand. As an average rule, your body is about at the very end of the left ( as shown in the Ma Wenge - Samsonov picture above). 

    With the left foot in front, your body faces the table sideways to shield the bat action with the body and the free hand. There is a fine line here for legality. The law says a player should serve in front of the body. But how that is measured and judged is entirely up to the umpire on duty. However, there is no rule against the freehand disguise. Samsonov is a great advocator for banning the shielding of ball contact. But until a bill as such is approved it's perfectly ok to do so.

  2. Backspin serve Basically the bat moves as shown in figure 1.


Key points to producing strong spin:

  • The contact point has to be at the lower part of the bat.

  • There should be more chopping action than hitting.

  • The action should be very very fast, regardless of long or short serve. The faster the better.

  • Loosen your wrist and grip until the moment of ball contact. Or you won't be able to accelerate the bat sufficiently.

  • Find more room for wrist swing. It is a lot easier for penholders than shakehanders to manoeuvre the wrist. When Waldner serves, his grip is actually half penhold. The idea is to find a wider angle for wrist work. 

And of course these are almost all shielded by your freehand.


Figure 1

 Then we talk about the no-spin.

Key points:

  • The contact point is at the upper part of the bat.

  • Still exactly the same chopping action to start as shown in step 1 of Figure 2. But, at the very moment of ball contact, you slightly, appropriately, reasonably flat push the bat as in step 2. It's usually done with the fingers on the back. The action is adjusted right at the last moment and it's unlikely your opponent can pick up the subtle change provided it's shielded.

  • The follow-up move as in step 3 is purely to confuse the opponent and therefore must be exactly the same as you do in Figure 1.


Figure 2

The two, used at your disposal, can lift your game to a new height.

The most common error is that there is little difference between the two - the backspin one is not spinning enough and the no-spin one bears spin.  There seems the only cure is more practice.  For backspin, give the ball more frictional action; for no-spin, correctly push the bat at the right angle.

However, experienced players can still glimpse some information by watching the contact, the ball, the flight. That's why you should learn to move the bat very fast regardless of long or short serves. The noise made at the contact is another important source of info. Then your stamp of left foot at the contact point will drown it up.

 1999-2000 Lynn's Table Tennis, part of Lynn's website series


Last Update : 06 November, 2002

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