The most important aspect of serving is to use the serve that you have the most confidence in and that effectively helps you win or set up your points. Even if you are not able to win with an ace, you can set up the point so you can dictate play.
Take some time to outline a game plan based on your strength and weaknesses so that you have a clear picture of your style of play, your dislikes and likes or what you feel comfortable or uncomfortable doing.
- For a player that likes to loop a lot, then most of your serves should be short, low backspin.
- For a pips-out attacker, you should serve mostly fast long with good placement.
- For a chopper, then you should serve deep spinny serves.
Once you have determined which are the serves that best help you set up your game, develop a motion whereby you can serve short or long without much difference in how it looks, to disguise your serve.
When practicing your table tennis serves, it would be good if you could do them in an environment similar to what you experience in a tournament.
Some key points to simulate a tournament environment
1) Get tired before serving – Do some fitness training or table tennis drills to get your heart rate up. Get tired enough that you should be panting before you go up to start your serve
2) Use tournament items – use a tournament table, 3 star ping pong balls so that the bounce will be similar to what you will deal with during the tournament.
3) Think of specific opponents – What serves have worked well against this opponent previously? How would this particular opponent receive this serve?
4) Use these same serves as during regular practice – Do not save your serves for a tournament , be willing to use them in practice matches.
In practice, you should try to put extra spin on the ball, more that usual so that you will miss about 1/4 of your serves. If you are not missing any serves, that is an indication that you are not trying hard enough.
In tournaments, you should usually miss about one serve per match. If you miss too many serves, you will be losing too many points easily.
Take the lead
By using your best serves early in the game, you can build up a quick lead in the match which helps you gain confidence. I remember beating an opponent who had a very strong serve.
In 3 games, i only managed to return about 1 out of 8 of that particular serve. However, i won the match because he kept changing serves, instead of staying with what works.
It is important to note that if your serve is doing damage, keep using it until it starts becoming less effective ( your opponent adapts to receiving it ) If you frequently mix up your serves, you might get confused and perform worse.
Instead of changing your serves, sometimes all you need to do is change the amount of pace or spin put on the ball.
Remember to attack
Your serve will give added pressure if it is backed by a strong offensive shot. If your opponent tries to keep you from attacking, he will make a ton of mistakes trying to keep the ball low and short.
During the game, do not be afraid of sacrificing a couple of points. For example – many players are afraid to serve long against a looper so they always serve short.
This allows the looper to stay close to the table when returning the serve which is a disadvantage for you.
Sometimes you have to serve a fast down the line or towards the backhand just to keep the opponent from reading your serve.
You might lose a point but it will be more effective in the long run as your opponent has to react instead of already being prepared which gives you more time and gives him less time to react to your serve.
How much to practice
When practicing your serves, train them to the highest level. Focus on one serve for 30 mins to an hour.
Take your time and analyze your serve, what is right and what is not good. It may be your technique, your body positioning, spin, power, racket angle.
Be patient and slowly adjust and experiment.
Watch top table tennis players on youtube or on television. Watch how they serve and try to emulate some and maybe you can find out certain ‘secrets’ while trying.
You can also hire a professional table tennis coach to help you with improving your serve.
Here are more articles you may find useful for your serves
Learn table tennis tactics from USATT Certified National Coach and Hall of Famer Larry Hodges. Includes tactics against different styles, grips, and surfaces as well as tactical and strategic thinking. The book opens with this: “Tactics isn’t about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work.” The book then explores the tactical and strategic development needed to have the specific tactical tools needed in any given match – your “tactical toolbox.”