If you want to improve your overall level in table tennis, spending a bit of extra time working on your serve is probably a good idea.
A strong serve can be the difference between being an intermediate and advanced player, and can make it much easier to get into a rally and dominate the point.
Don’t forget, the service is the only part of the game where you have complete control over the ball and aren’t being forced to react to an opponents shot. Make the most of this!
I’m sure that most of you are already aware of all the different types of serves and the different combinations of spin you can impart on the ball. I’ll be writing in more detail about some of the major service techniques later on in my How to Play Table Tennis series (which I’ll be working my way through again starting next week) but in this post I just want to highlight one important tactical tip that is often forgotten, or simply unknown.
My one key tip to improve your table tennis serve regards length and more specifically…
…aiming for the end-line of the table!
“What’s so important about the end-line?” I hear you cry. Well, let me explain…
Why the end-line is so important
The end-line of the table makes a great target for any type of service for the following reasons;
- A half-long serve that is clipping the end-line on it’s second bounce gives the receiver a tough decision to make as to whether to take it early or wait and hope it drops off.
- A short serve that is making it’s second bounce on or close to the end-line is tougher to touch back short or flick than a shorter service.
- A fast serve that hits the end-line will often catch out receivers that were expecting a shorter serve and stepping-in.
- If you’re going for a long fast serve the end-line represents the most amount of power you can put into the serve before it’ll start going off the end of the table.
Regardless of whether you’re serving short or long (or half-long) you should be thinking about the end-line of the table!
The image below will help demonstrate the point more clearly…
Here the server (in light blue) has two options: she can either serve short or long. A short ball, if given the chance, will always bounce twice on the receivers end of the table, a long ball will only bounce once. That is how we objectively define the length of serves.
Using my excellent Paint skills (I’ll learn how to use Photoshop eventually, I promise) I’ve drawn on the ideal lengths of these short and long services. Regardless of the type of serve used, or the placement on the table, it’s a good idea to aim for the lengths I’ve shown which make full use of the end-line.
The “white” service is a long and fast serve that goes diagonally across the table from corner-to-corner, just catching the end line of the table. This “deep” service would be very difficult to return for the receiver if they were expecting a short serve and had stepped into the table. A long serve that went a bit shorter, not making it all the way to the end-line, would be much easier to return and less optimal.
Remember: pretty much all of your long serves should be hitting that end-line of the table. This will firstly help you get more pace on the serve and keep the bounce low but more importantly it’ll make the serve much more difficult to return!
The “black” service is a short serve, to the middle of the table, with a second bounce just clipping the end-line of the table. Looking at the ready position of the receiver (which is quite a distance from the table, giving me the impression she is expecting a long serve) I think a short serve is probably the best option here. As the receiver is looking like she wants to attack the service this half-long serve, where the second bounce just clips the end line of the table, should stop her in her tracks. She’ll have to make a quick decision as to whether the ball is going to bounce a second time or not and then change her return stroke accordingly.
In this case, even though the receiver is quite a distance from the table a very short serve may be easier to return. If she was to see an obviously short serve she could probably quite quickly decide, “OK, this serve isn’t going long. To plan-b!” and quick step in and play a push or a flick. However, the fact that the second bounce is going to be close to the end line will tempt her to wait and see if she can attack, costing her valuable time, and leading to a sub-par return stroke.
There will be times when it’s a good idea to serve very short and close to the net but the majority of the time you should be aiming for the end-line, either with the first bounce of your long fast serve, or with the second bounce of your short/half-long serve.
Are there any downsides to aiming for the end-line?
If you watch the professional players you should notice that a lot of the time they are aiming for the end-line with their serves. It’s important to remember though, that they have spent countless hours practicing these serves and gaining that fine level of control over their placement. If you were following any of the Chinese National Team training in the lead up to the World Championships this year will no doubt have seen the service practice game devised by head coach Liu Guoliang that had the team members serving on A4 pieces of paper!
That’s not to say that you can’t reach that level of accuracy too, I’m just pointing out the amount of practice that’s needed to become that accurate because when you are aiming for that end-line all of a sudden accuracy becomes much much more important.
If your long serve goes a little too long it’s going to miss the table.
If your short/half-long serve goes a little too long it’s going to be very easy for your opponent to wait for it and attack it past you.
My point is this…
Aiming for the end-line is definitely the best tactic on your serves, as long as you can actually hit it.
If your accuracy is poor then a couple of service errors in a game could be the difference between winning and losing and perhaps you’d be better off just playing it safe. That’s not to say stop trying altogether but just be aware when you are in a competitive situation not to be giving away any “free” points.
So, in conclusion…
- The majority of your serves should be aimed towards the end-line of the table, whether you want them to be short or long.
- If you watch the professional you’ll see a lot of these types of serves.
- It’ll make your long serves faster and more difficult to return.
- It’ll make you short serves more deadly and force your opponent to make some tough decisions.
- Accuracy is very important when aiming so close to the end of the table so…
- Make sure you do plenty of practice and get confident at hitting that end-line in practice and when under pressure!
Thanks for reading and I hope you find success as you implement this tip for your table tennis serve into your game.