Kenta Matsudaira (aged just 21 and currently ranked 39th in the world) has a very effective tomahawk serve. If you’ve ever watched him play you will have seen him confuse opponents with his ability to serve it forehand or backhand, long or short, and side/top or side/chop. This level of variation, and the fact that it is quite an unfamiliar serve, makes it deadly to return.
In this post we’ll be having a look a Kenta’s serve in the hope that we have come up with some tips to help us replicate it ourselves. I’ve spent a little bit of time practicing the serve and had quite a lot of fun doing it. I’ve also used in a couple of times in competitive matches and despite my current lack of skill the ‘surprise factor’ alone has won me a few points off of it.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about then the video below will clear things up. Here Kenta serves his famous backhand tomahawk serve, with topspin, to Ma Lin.
So what is it that makes Kenta’s tomahawk serve so effective?
- Unfamiliarity – Most players serve from their backhand corner. Kenta’s serve comes from the middle of the table. Most players serve with their forehand. Kenta uses his backhand frequently. Most serves have a contact point close to the servers chest. Kenta’s makes contact with the ball close to his ear. All of these factors add up to make the serve quite peculiar.
- Variation – As I have mentioned earlier Kenta’s ability to vary his serve is what makes it such a weapon. If he always served with the backhand, it was always short and always side/backspin the serve would be nowhere near as effective. The huge amount of possible variation increases the amount of thinking the receiver has to do before selecting a shot.
- Deception – Variation is not much use if the serve is easy to read but Kenta manages to make even the forehand and backhand serve look identical before the point of contact. You’ll see this in more detail in a slow-motion video I’ve posted below.
- Heavy spin – Finally the huge amount of spin Kenta manages to place on the ball makes it curve massively and really kick off the opponents racket. It makes the receiver have to commit fully to a shot as they know anything less will let the spin of the ball have it’s own way.
How to Serve Like Kenta
Here’s a slow motion video of Kenta serving tomahawk and reverse tomahawk. If you watch closely you can see the difference between the two serves with forehand or backhand.
From the video I have picked out the following coaching tips.
- Stand middle and square – Should go without saying really but worth pointing out as we don’t stand like this for many serves. Feet should be pretty much square to the table.
- Get low – Kenta makes contact with the ball just above the ear. In order keep the serve low and not bouncy you’ll need to get your head just above table level.
- Bend your wrist – Just before contact with the ball Kenta’s wrist bends backwards. This allows him to snap it forwards generating lots of spin.
- Stop the bat – When I was practicing this serve I would let the bat finish about a foot in front of me but from watching Kenta you see that his bat stops almost immediately after making contact with the ball, not too far from his head.
I found this tutorial on YouTube. It’s not the best but it gives you an idea and a chance to see someone else having a go at the serve.
The guy in the video seems to be using a lot more arm than Kenta, which probably means he isn’t using his wrist quite enough.
Alois Rosario from PingSkills made a great point when asked about this serve. He said…
Do it a lot of times without the ball. When you start to practice the serve with the ball only focus on the movement of the bat. Forget anything else including hitting the ball. If you miss the ball a lot of times that is fine. Eventually you will start to get the two things to happen together, swinging correctly and hitting the ball correctly.
And on that note I think we’ll leave it there. It’s definitely worth spending a bit of time trying out Kenta’s serve. Even if you don’t end up using it in your matches it will give you an increased understanding of generating spin on your serve.
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