If you are a beginner, or fairly new to table tennis, learning a couple of ‘good’ serves can make all the difference in your matches. A super heavy backspin serve could easily be the difference between winning and losing a game against other players at your own level.
This is certainly what Sam discovered a couple of months into The Expert in a Year Challenge. Once he mastered the ability to really chisel underneath the ball, generating a huge amount of spin, his matches against his flatmates changed completely. In this post I’ll teach you everything you need to know in order to develop a super heavy backspin serve
Most beginners add very little spin to their serves. Common beginner serves include a fast flat serve or various combination of light sidespin and topspin. These serves can be hit by the receiver and returned with a drive, counter-hit, smash, slap, whatever you want to call it.
The only way to win the point with these kinds of serves is to;
- Serve fast enough to catch your opponent off guard (this is very hard to do as all they need to do is stick their bat in the way of the ball to return it).
- Play the point out and beat them in the rally (this is a perfectly acceptable way to win points but it could be so much easier).
If you are playing a half decent beginner, confident at hitting the ball hard, you can actually end up on the back foot after these types of serves. You are essentially giving them a free ball to hit and putting pressure on yourself to be able to get to their quick return of your serve.
So what else can you do?
Very few beginners are able to serve with heavy backspin. Learn this skill and you will find yourself in a unique position against your peers.
If you watch professional table tennis players you’ll notice that the majority of their serves are backspin and short. That is because this is the most difficult type of serve to attack and at the highest levels you don’t want to give your opponent any free balls to hit.
Many beginners decide to try and replicate these serves and start trying to serve short backspin. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Unfortunately, learning how to serve short backspin is very difficult when you haven’t fully got to grip with simply serving heavy backspin. The desire to keep the ball short (bouncing twice on your opponents side of the table) usually ends up making it incredibly difficult for a beginner to actually put any spin on the ball. They are left with a short float serve that can still be hit by their opponent, albeit with slightly more difficulty.
My advice is to forget about serving short for now and simply focus on getting as much backspin as possible. The main reason professional players serve short is to stop their opponent from looping the backspin serve. Chances are the person you’re playing won’t be able to loop a long backspin serve anyway, so you don’t really need to worry about it.
How to create super heavy backspin
It actually pretty easy to serve with super heavy backspin; it’s all about learning to hack underneath the ball instead of hitting or tapping it on the back. There are two essential principles to understand;
- Your bat face needs to be completely open. Start and finish the service motion with your bat horizontal to the table (you don’t need to do anything fancy). This bat angle means that you will be able to slice the ball on contact. It is this fine brushing contact that is important.
- You need to accelerate your bat towards the ball as fast as possible. If you service action is slow you won’t get much spin. It is the racket speed that creates super heavy backspin. You can achieve this acceleration from your elbow (easier) or your elbow and wrist together (better but more difficult). Perhaps start with your wrist locked in position and once you’ve got the hang of it using your elbow you can add in a bit of wrist.
Here’s a YouTube video of a guy showing us how it’s done.
He’s got a lot of thumbs down on that video because he doesn’t actually breakdown his technique for the ‘ghost serve’ and the serves aren’t that good. But if you are a beginner (and I’m assuming this guy was when he shot this video) then that serve is fine for you. He is getting plenty of backspin which is going to stop an opponent from attacking. The key is the speed of arm movement which results in a very fine contact on the bottom of the ball.
You can do that sort of serve with your forehand or your backhand and to all different points on the table. As long as you open up your bat face and hack under the ball you’ll be okay.
To generate even more spin try throwing the ball a little higher. The higher you throw it the faster it will accelerate on the way down and the more spin you will be able to impart on the ball. Try throwing it up to head height. Many beginners barely allow the ball to leave their hand. There’s nothing wrong with a high toss!
And you don’t even need a table to practice it all. Just grab a bat and ball and start working on your contact. Try the serve on carpet and see if you can get the ball to come back to you when it hitting the floor. Do this over and over until you are comfortable with the arm action and ball contact.
Winning points with it
The simplest way to win points with this serve is if your opponent puts the ball straight into the net. If they try to hit that serve you can be sure it’s going straight into the bottom of the net. That’s a point to you without even doing anything.
Chances are they will quickly work out that they need to push your serve, or at least get their bat underneath it. A really heavy backspin serve can still go into the net even with a push (if they aren’t very good at pushing). Lots of players struggle with their forehand push more than their backhand push, so serving into their forehand half could be a good tactic.
If you are playing someone that is able to push all your serves back, that’s okay too. You’ve stopped them from being able to attack your serve and you can now decide what to do with their push. If they’ve played a good push you might have to push it back. Look for an angle and try and get lots of backspin on your push. Push heavy and deep can be a good tactic. If their push was poor, and lacks backspin, you may be able to attack it.
The final way to win points is to chuck in a fast serve every now and again. If you opponent is expecting your super heavy backspin serve there is good chance you will now be able to catch them out with a fast serve. When you were serving fast 100% of the time the chances of this happening were slim but now that you have your super heavy backspin serve things have changed.
Improving the serve
Eventually you’ll start playing players that are able to loop a long heavy backspin serve. You’d be surprised how difficult this is though and you’ll probably get away with serving long for longer than you’d think.
Once you find your super heavy backspin serves getting looped past you it’s time to start working on getting them short (bouncing twice on your opponents side of the table). This should be too difficult. All you need to do is try and get any even finer contact underneath the ball (if you hack it too much it will always go long) and aim for the bounce on your side to be slightly closer to the net.
If you picture the net like a mirror that should help. If your serve bounces close to the net on your side it will bounce close to the net on your opponent’s side (staying short). If your serve bounces close to the end line on your side it will bounce close to the end line on your opponent’s side (going long).
It might take a little bit of practice but it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick up.
So there we have it; the super heavy backspin serve. This is a serve that every table tennis player should learn and one that can be particularly ruthless at the beginner level.
- Focus on heavy spin first and worry about the length later.
- Make sure you slice underneath the ball.
- Accelerate your bat as much as possible on contact.
- Think about aiming at your opponents forehand side if their forehand push is weaker (it often is).
- Practice your fine contact as much as possible.