3rd Ball Expectation
Rowden Fullen (2003)
The whole objective of the serve is to obtain a decisive advantage. The aggressive third ball figures very prominently in winning the point as early as possible in the rally. However to be completely successful in third ball attack it is necessary not only to limit or control any 2nd ball opening, but also to be poised, ready and prepared (in the right position) to take full advantage of any opportunity you create from the serve.
To have the best possible chance of doing this certain prerequisites have to be observed –
- The original service position should be sound.
- The position of the feet and any necessary recovery after the serve are of vital importance.
- Balance and weight distribution are also essential in preparing for 3rd ball attack.
It helps to serve from the basic modern ready position as in diagram A, or as near to this as you can get. It is then most difficult for your opponent to create any advantage on the 2nd ball as you are in a sound position to cover the table. You also need a minimum of movement after your serve to get into a good position to attack the third ball. Finally you should be well placed to use your forehand effectively to attack strongly after the serve.
Equally if recovery is necessary as in diagram B, where the player has moved to the middle of the table to serve with the backhand, then such recovery must be made as rapidly as possible either to the basic ready position or to a position relatively central to the new ‘angle of play’ (this is the new table area available to the opponent as he/she plays the return ball).
What should be stressed also is that the faster the serve, the less time you will have to recover and to get back to a sound ready position for the next ball. It is perhaps good policy to put your fastest serves into play from the modern ready position as in A.
Bear in mind too that weight distribution is of immediate importance both after your own serve and on the receive. It is vital (for a right-hander) to have right foot mobility, to the short ball (under the table), to the wide ball on the forehand side, backwards to create space to play forehands off the left hip, or backwards and behind when playing forehands from the backhand corner. Even those players who stand with the right foot well back often take a half-step in to cover their options in playing the next ball.
Many players even at top level continue to serve outside the backhand corner as in diagram C. They do not seem to appreciate that much of the advantage has now been lost under the new serving regulations. In fact most players have made little attempt to change their action, they just try to remove the free arm which results consequently in a stiff and unnatural service action. As a result they are often slower to get round to play the third ball. It has been noticed for example that some women players now have up to three separate movements after their serve before they are in a good position to play their next stroke.
Few players seem to have worked out for example that a higher throw and good body rotation above the waist, will automatically remove the free arm from the field of play, while still retaining good spin and effect on the serve. This action can be done also just as effectively from position A as it can from C and has several advantages especially in the women’s game. Many women play more backhands from the middle of the table and are much better placed from position A to do this. Women are slower than men are to recover and in movement generally. Position A again simplifies the area of movement. Also it is possible to cover a wider area of placement to the opponent’s forehand and achieve a little more deception when serving from this area of the table.
Many players and especially men players want of course to use their forehand on the third ball and therefore continue to serve from outside the backhand corner as in C. They ignore certain new factors which can have a bearing on the situation –
- the stiffness in the new service action, especially in the left side of the body.
- less rotation of the body in many cases.
- the fact that now the opponent has clear sight of the serve, he or she has the capability to be much more positive on the 2nd ball.
Of course in the case of many players they have in fact changed their service action as little as possible. A number of the top stars complain that the new rules have had little impact and that many players still serve in a very questionable manner. What is obvious is that few established players have made a real effort to make changes in their service action or to research methods of being more effective under the new regulations.