The Mechanics of the Long Serve and why Women use it more

Rowden Fullen(2003)

At top level in the men’s game the shorter, tight serve is used quite often. Usually it is not very short but rather half-long and delivered with a mixture of backspin, sidespin and float. Thus it is too long to flick and too short to loop and the deception in the spin element also causes problems in dealing positively with the serve. However all the top men are capable of initiating long serves and use them from time to time. In fact the shorter serves because they are increasingly familiar to players are no longer as effective as they were and there is a need to produce more long serves. Even those players who use the shorter serve as an integral part of their game are finding that better results can be achieved by mixing in the occasional long serve.

Certain technical requirements should be observed when executing long serves

  • The first bounce of the ball should be close to the end line in the server’s own court.
  • The contact of the racket with the ball should be just above the level of the playing surface.
  • At the instant of impact an explosive forward momentum should be applied not only with the action of the waist and the legs, but even more important, with the wrist and the fingers. The ‘shakehands’ grip player should emphasize the use of the forefinger in forehand serves and the coordinated action of the forefinger and especially the thumb in backhand serves (or alternatively the wrist alone can be used in the case of the fast sidespin serves). The pen-hold player must apply force with the middle finger behind the racket.
  • Never hit the ball downwards. This results in a larger angle between the line of flight and the table surface, causing the ball to bounce higher. The smaller the angle between the table surface and the flight path, the lower the trajectory. However high you throw up the ball in the service action, always try to have the actual point of contact as close to the table surface as possible and hit the ball forward. This has an additional advantage in that the opponent has less time to read the spin on the ball, because the distance between the ball hitting the racket and then the table may be as small as 4 – 5 centimetres. If you combine this with a fast racket action, then the service can be very deceptive.

In the women’s game the long serve is used much more often and for two main reasons.

  • Women don’t topspin with as much power and such a high spin element as the men. Therefore women can’t hit the ball as hard and on the table as easily as men and it’s easier for other women to control the power and spin that they do feed into the shot. If you remember your theory less power means less topspin and less on-the-table-control for your shots (the ball doesn’t dip down so much on the opponent’s side of the table). For the women who drive more than spin then timing is absolutely critical and to obtain maximum effect they have only a very narrow ‘window’. Basically women have less control against the long serve and especially if they try to return with power. Even at international level the top women do not always even return the long serve on the table!
  • Most women play closer to the table and counter better than the men from this position, it’s an integral part of their game. What better than to serve long, let the opponent open, then just kill the ball past them? Generally women counter extraordinarily well and in many cases from an extremely early timing point. If they use the short service too often they get ‘bogged down’ in a pushing game; many women in Europe are not good in the short game. Even in this situation they will on many occasions push long to tempt the opponent to open so that they can counter once again!

What women players should really be looking at is to return the long serve with something other than power. A ‘stop-block’ for example, which returns a different pace and spin and denies the server the opportunity to use the return speed which they normally expect. Or a slow ‘roll’ ball from a later timing point which gives the server neither much speed nor much spin to work with. Or even the occasional chop or float return. All these returns have the advantage of taking the speed away from the server so that she is not able to use it against you on the third ball. Why play into the server’s hands and do what she wants, why not do something different?

The serve/receive scenario is of particular importance in the modern game. By the way they play it looks as if most European women train far too much control play, loop to loop or loop to block, they don’t train to win the point! The result is that against the top Asians they don’t have the time or the opportunity to utilize the stronger technical aspects of their game. Instead of playing further back from the table, perhaps the European women’s development should be directed more towards the importance of serve, receive and the first four balls and also towards methods of more effective and active play over the table. In this way they will have rather more opportunities to create attacking positions and earlier in the rally.

Rarely if ever for instance are the Asian women afraid of the European serves and follow-up ball. They consider that the Europeans have too few serves, are predictable in the way they use them and therefore usually limited with what they can do with the first attack ball. Often at the highest levels against the Asians, European players aren’t allowed the opportunity to get their strengths in and are not able to use their strong spin early enough in the rally. With their serve and third ball and receive and fourth, the Asians deny them the time. Not enough European women are able to impose their game on the Asians.

Perhaps now at last is the time for a rather different method, the ‘soft approach’. Instead of thinking power and spin (and women must bear in mind that the big ball will have proportionally less spin and effect, especially if they play further back from the table) why not move in the opposite direction and consider the virtues of lack of power and particularly on the receive of the long serve!

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