Breaking Down the Samsonov Serve

There are certain players that I really enjoy watching. I’m particularly drawn to players that I feel I can learn something from. Near the top of that list is Vladimir Samsonov. There’s something to be said for staying near the top of the world rankings for multiple decades. Samsonov is 6’2″ and forty three years old. To watch him play is to see a clinic on a balance of offense and defense, and conserving energy. Every player over 6′ tall should study how he uses his size to his advantage. I find his serve to be particularly interesting.

hSamsonov’s trademark high toss serve doesn’t seem like it is very well suited to the modern game. It seems like the serve starts in slow motion, with a somewhat awkward toss. It’s almost as if he doesn’t decide what type of spin to apply until the ball is descending. I was surprised to discover that he is only 6’2″. His upright stance makes him appear taller when he is serving. Despite it’s awkward appearance, this service approach has been working for him through multiple Olympic Games, and continues to work well in 2019.  

The subtlety and genius of his serves really can’t be captured on video. It’s quite possible to immitate a Samsonov serve, but it’s not so easy to replicate the Samsonov touch. There are some lessons that can be learned from this unique serve. They are lessons that any player of any standard can benefit from. 

  •  A high toss serve is worth learning. See About That High Toss Serve
  •  It’s possible to serve well with a smooth delivery, rather than always relying on quick motions.
  •  For some players, it’s better to serve from the middle of the table instead of the corner. Unless your game is built around a forehand third ball attack, there’s no reason to always serve from the backhand corner. Serving from the middle is a legitimate option for backhand oriented players, defensive players, or players who have trouble covering their forehand corner.
  •  Serves are one area of the game where it’s possible to be a little more creative. There are usually weaknesses with highly unorthodox playing styles. This isn’t necessarily true with unusual serves. 
  • A good serve is one that compliments your game. There aren’t many players serving Samsonov style, but his serves set up his game perfectly.

I like Vladimir Samsonov’s serves for several reasons. He rarely hides his serves, or serves illegally. He quickly transitions from his serves to a very balanced and controlled playing position. His serves are unique, and they compliment his game. Learning what serves best compliment your game can be an ongoing process. But it is something that every player should really think about and work on. It’s interesting to break down Samsonov’s serves, but breaking down your own will help a lot more.


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