Ever play a game of table tennis against an opponent with a dynamic serving style? You know the type – impossible spin at varying speeds and locations. The ball leaves their paddle, the opponent lines up their return, and then the serve launches off of your paddle in an unanticipated direction. If they could just give you that serve again, you could get it next time- nope they mix it up … again. Yeah, it's frustrating.
No matter how strong one's return game is, a player with an array of nasty serves can always find a weakness to exploit. Most serious players at least have one or two go-to serves that leave their opponents returning a weak ball. The problem is that one or two great serves may not be enough against another strong player, who will be able to adapt and adjust to that style as the match progresses. This is why it is so important to develop a stronger arsenal of table tennis serves. So, what can help you to improve?
Know the Basics
- When it comes to mastering the table tennis serve, one must first know few key types: forehand topspin, forehand backspin, forehand sidespin, backhand topspin, backhand backspin and backhand sidespin. Start by practicing each type of serve, to get a feel for the motion required for success. Most people are more comfortable with either forehand or backhand, and that's okay to start. However, to truly dominate in the serving game, players need to be able to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness- so they need a toolbox of serves.
Increase and Vary Spin
- After getting comfortable serving from all four of the basic table tennis serve positions, it's time to ramp up the spin. High levels of spin are what allow players to keep extremely hard-hit serves on the table, and generate those seemingly impossible bounces which confound the uninitiated. The two most common, effective ways of increasing spin are to “brush” or “skim” the ball different amounts when it's hit. This technique requires touch and practice. The other common technique is to vary the amount of wrist snap on contact, which can be especially effective on forehand shots.
There is no easy way to learn how to vary spin – it takes practice, and it's a matter of touch. To gain that touch, take mental note of the serves that “feel” just right during practice sessions, and try to repeat that motion until it becomes consistent. When first learning how to vary the spin of the ball, start your practice with the strokes you are already most comfortable with forehand or your backhand). This will make obtaining the right touch much more manageable, as one won't be fighting an uncomfortable serving style along with the spin. Once you have mastered that- move to the alternate side (likely the back hand).
Practice, Practice, Practice
- The key to all elements of developing a great table tennis serve is practice. It's best to start by doing so alone, with a bucket of balls and no opponent. This will allow for practice without the stress of worrying about a return. There are training tools available as well, like the Killerspin Serving Trainer and Success in Table Tennis DVD which will help make practice session more effective and develop serves that will leave opponents confounded.
Once one is ready to unveil their new service game, it's time to take it to the table. Don't be discouraged if all doesn't go well in game action right away. It's common for practiced skills to require a time to integrate seamlessly into real games. You may lose some matches while you are working in your new technique but the result should pay off in the long run. Who knows, maybe one day you'll even be able to serve like Ma Lin. Check that serve out!