The Hidden Serve Solution for Table Tennis

One of the things about writing a blog is that you sometimes have to go out on a limb. Perhaps there are times when you need to say what no one else has said. Actually, these times are pretty rare. Most suillegal servebjects relating to our sport have been covered numerous times. Information on equipment, proper strokes, and player development is easily found. I recently wrote some thoughts about boosting rubber and a possible solution, only to find that several others in the table tennis community were already fighting that battle and had come to the same conclusions I had.

The issue of illegal serves is actually considered a bigger problem than boosting, but there might be a somewhat easier solution to this one. Reading from Larry Hodges’ blog, I see that he is promoting a small rule change that would require the ball to be visible from the vantage point of the posts of the net. Here’s the part where I go out on a limb. If I am reading this correctly, it would be a great change and would be much easier to enforce. I do see one problem with it, though. That is, I don’t think it could actually be enforced without an umpire. If we are only trying to fix this problem for tournaments or for matches that have umpires, this solution could work. But in reality, most table tennis matches do not have umpires, so we need a rule that could be easily enforced right down to the lowest level club matches.

The solution that I propose and would encourage the ITTF to consider is actually quite simple. And it would automatically assure that serves could not be hidden, leaving us with only having to enforce the six inch toss. The standard forehand serve for a right-handed player from his backhand corner often has the player’s body facing the right side of the playing area, possibly with his left leg extended. After the serve, it becomes necessary for the server to turn and face the table in order to be ready for the next shot. This serving routine made sense when it was legal to serve with your arm extended or hide the ball in some other manner. But there is no logical reason for continuing to serve this way other than habit – or to hide the ball as much as one feels he can get away with. An enforceable rule could be that players must have their bodies facing the table at any angle that does not involve either leg crossing in front of the other.

It’s generally accepted that the player who is serving has some advantage. The change I am suggesting might make serving less of an advantage. Some players might even prefer to receive, feeling they now have a better chance to get in the first attack. Having players face the table also fixes the problem of serves being hidden by a person’s body. I’m sure I am not the only player to come up against a player whose torso is large enough to hide every serve. In addition to fixing one of our sport’s biggest problems, longer rallies could be a side benefit of serves that are truly visible.

So there you have it: a simple solution to a complicated problem. Would players like it? Would the ITTF go for it? Could it be easily implemented? Perhaps the answer is “No” on all three questions. There is one more question though: Would it be good for the game? If table tennis is going to survive in the years ahead, this might be a key to its survival. Returning serves is often the most difficult skill to master. How many players have given up on playing not only because they couldn’t return serves, but also because they couldn’t even see them.

One element of table tennis is – and will always be – deception. The rules of the game need to keep this aspect of play in check. If the ITTF thinks the current situation is actually good for table tennis, they are only deceiving themselves.

7 Replies to “The Hidden Serve Solution for Table Tennis”

  1. Why make serving principles so easy to cheat with. Why not take this out of serving. Serving is too dominant is tennis and has made the game less interesting and so the same is coming true of table tennis. Make the service less compicated and more easily excessible to new players. This will open the game up to the others aspects of skills needed to win points and not the one dimensional serve aspect, so I agree with Jon. How do we market this idea?

    1. I think you see this much more clearly than those in power at USATT and the ITTF. This will be a tough battle to win for a number of reasons. As you know people are often reluctant to change even when the change is positive. The ITTF is the only group that can make changes that will affect the sport worldwide. They have made other changes that were often unpopular but in this case the biggest fight would come from professional players.

  2. Jon, I love you, but this is a horrible idea and it’s goes against the entire game of table tennis. All table tennis strokes are made with the transfer of the body’s weight from one leg to another leg. When I serve I stand with my left foot forward so I can transfer my weight from my right leg to my left leg. Also, this would kill third ball attacking in the game, which I think is one of the most beautiful parts of the game. Standing sideways and opening up your forehand side allows you to be ready to attack with a forehand loop. This would be such a stupid rule, and would basically just make everyone use backhand serves. Is that what you want, all backhand serves?

    1. I am pretty sure you would still be able to pull off a third ball attack. Forehand serves would still be very practical. I don’t think facing the table at some angle from the start would in any way keep you from getting in the right position for a loop or transferring your weight as needed. Most players who stand sideways for their serves have to turn their bodies to be in position to loop anyway. I’m sure you are not the only one who thinks it’s a stupid idea. One thing I have noticed though, is that the higher the rating a player has the more he is adamantly opposed to considering this. Lower rated players have generally been in favor of it. If table tennis is ever going to gain popularity on the same level with golf or tennis, we need to quit trying to grow the sport from the top down. Most things grow better from the bottom up.

      1. Table Tennis is already more popular than Golf and Tennis. Maybe not in America, but Table Tennis is the second most popular sport worldwide, Soccer being the first.

        1. I’d really love to see the U.S. catch up. I also still see big matches playing to only a handful of people. I guess my point really was that to get more people playing competitively we need to have clear enforceable rules for serves, not rules that will require an umpires ruling.

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