What makes a great serve? For a lot of players the answer is a variation of what once was used to identify obscenity; “I know it when I see it.” Most of us would agree that the videos of top players best serves look great.
It’s easy to recognize these impressive serves in videos. Most players quickly recognize the standard of their opponents’ serves. But, how do we evaluate our own serves, given that it’s impossible to ever fully know what our opponent is experiencing? I believe many players come up with their service patterns through a process of trial and error. A coach may help with recommendations, but eventually the decision about what serves to use, and in what situations, is left to the player. Knowing that improvement of serves is probably the quickest way to improve as a player, I’ve given a lot of thought to serving. I’ve come up with a list of ideas for players to consider so they might make better choices with their service patterns. As important as serves are, players should be able to explain what their approach to service is, and why.
- It’s great if you can serve in such a way that your opponent can’t make a return. Unfortunately, you can’t count on this happening too often. The first priority for your serves should be how well your serves compliment your overall game. Choppers tend to serve with heavy underspin. Offensive players should be looking for serves that create opportunities to attack.
- Vary your serves. Variation doesn’t mean you have fifty different serves. It does mean you use a few different serves, and vary the speed, spin, and placement.
- Style may not be as important as it seems. Some serves just look cool, but what’s important is how the serve affects your opponent, not the audience. The more you practice the serves that best suit you, the more fluid they will look.
- Don’t rush. This is something that some players have a hard time adjusting to. Players that rush their serves also tend to serve illegally, and ineffectively. They also can end up rushing their opponents which is usually not appreciated. There is a rhythm to a table tennis match that requires a pause before serving. You should have a ritual for serving that allows for you to consider your approach for each point, and allows your opponent to do the same.
- If you look closely at the video of pros serving, you may think some of their serves are illegal. There’s a good reason for that. Some of them are. Enforcement of the rules for serving are so inconsistently enforced that it’s created conflicts that are not good for our sport. See The Hidden Serve Solution For Table Tennis Until such time that there is a rule change, players will be serving illegally. I don’t encourage this, but it is possible to get really close to illegal, without quite crossing the line by hiding contact.
- Consider how high you want to make your toss. A legal serve is at least six inches. Some players will need to keep this to the minimum, but some might benefit from a higher toss. See About That High Toss Serve
Whatever your approach to serving, you should always know why you are serving the way you are. You may need to alter your approach for different opponents. You can always improve your serves with practice, and there may be times when you will need to change your philosophy on serving. The serves you choose for competition will be the ones that give you the best chance to win.