3 Table Tennis Serves Every Player Should Master

It is no secret that effective serving can be what makes or breaks a match. It is quite literally the only time in a match that you have complete control of the ball – so you’d better make it count! Table tennis serves matter!

Whilst having unorthodox serves certainly places you in a more advantageous position, it is often the bread and butter (the simple serves) that you revert to when things aren’t going your way. It is for this reason, today, I will be discussing three core table tennis serves every player should master.

3 Core Table Tennis Serves

1. The Chop Serve

Kicking things off we’ve got the chop serve. It is an easy serve to perform and often the safest. Given that the chop imparts solely backspin, it is the easiest serve to keep short. This prevents your opponent from opening up with loops. What’s more, if you’re able to produce good levels of backspin many players will be reluctant to play flick returns as well. This means you will be fed a push return.

A trait unique to the chop serve is the type of spin – its always backspin, no sidespin or topspin here folks! So in regards to spin variation, you’re strictly limited to the degree of spin you are creating. This is somewhat restrictive, but given that the chop is the best serve at preventing service return kill shots, it’s a worthy trade-off.

Half-long chop serves are another great option too. These are chop serves which appear as if they may bounce twice but instead bounce once on your opponent’s side of the table. In the heat of the moment, these can be difficult to read and many players will opt for a safe push over committing to the loop. By electing to push when the ball is so deep on their side of the table, they will have trouble keeping their push short. This gives you more time to react to the incoming push allowing you to prepare for an attacking shot such as a loop.

When playing aggressive loopers, chop serves are an ideal choice.

2. The Pendulum Serve

The next essential serve you need to be comfortable using is the pendulum. Perhaps the most popular serve today, it introduces sidespin into the equation. Much like the chop serve, it is very easy to perform and certainly can be tricky to return if performed effectively.

In my opinion, it’s the easiest serve to introduce spin variation and deception. Just a slight change in the wrist can turn backspin into topspin.

I would even consider most long topspin pendulums somewhat safe against many players. When performed crosscourt (as the pendulum often is) from your backhand side deep into your opponent’s backhand, the likelihood of a winner coming back at you is pretty slim. Only players with elite backhands, or great movement to initiate a forehand loop, really pose a risk of hitting consistent kill shots.

In my experience, more than 90% of the time opponents will play a manageable attacking backhand shot. As such, the pendulum can be a great option for players who want to force topspin rallies. If you know you’re stronger than your opponent in this regard, and they can’t hit a winner off of your topspin pendulum, you can’t go wrong with this strategy.

3. The Reverse Pendulum/Shovel Serve

Tip: If the reverse pendulum looks too challenging I would go with the shovel, it’s considerably easier to perform.

The reverse pendulum/shovel serve is certainly the hardest to perform out of the three table tennis serves. Nonetheless, it is just as important. Either of these serves account for what you are lacking in the chop and pendulum – sidespin which encourages the ball to your forehand. 

I cannot stress how important it is to be able to perform every kind of spin possible for your serves, and having these three does just that. Every opponent will have their own weakness when it comes to spin… it’s just a matter of finding it! 

I can pretty much say I’ve found specific weaknesses for players in every service combination: short heavy topspin shovels, long backspin pendulums, medium-long chops, and the list goes on.

If you opt not to learn the reverse pendulum/shovel serve I can guarantee you will be missing out on points somewhere down the line.   

Even if you don’t win points outright, the sidespin from these serves will ensure more balls land on your forehand side (especially at beginner to intermediate level). More forehands mean more forehand loop opportunities, which consequently results in more winners (generally speaking). 

My experience adopting the shovel serve

If you’ve read my blog post on my beloved tomahawk serve you’ll know that not only do I discuss how powerful this serve is, but I also mention how after around seven years of refining this serve in the never-ending pursuit of mastery, I’ve largely transferred my efforts over to the shovel serve. I can produce comparable levels of spin whilst maintaining high levels of deception, and I am ultimately left in a better position to play a follow-up shot. The shovel serve has quickly become one of my favourites! I highly recommend trying it.

Not to say that the reverse pendulum isn’t great in its own right, I like performing that serve too!

The Takeaway

So that’s it really. That’s all three table tennis serves. When it comes down to it, that’s all you really need. These three serves will give you all the weapons required to exploit your opponents’ service weaknesses.

The idea of this post is not to deter you from expanding your horizons and learning new serves – far from it. The takeaway should be that with just three core serves you have all the fundamental tools you need to be an effective server. Your serves now will be better than your serves a year ago. And your serves in five years will be leaps and bounds better than what they are now. You don’t need masses of table tennis serves to be an effective server. Remember that.