Service and Serve Strategy

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

Serve and the strategy of service have changed very much over the years. In the days of the old hard bat there was very little spin and often the serve was just used to put the ball ‘into play’, now there is spin, speed and deception. Short serves are usually short or half long (with the second bounce on the white line) to tempt the opponent to push or to open with a less strong shot, whereupon the server can counter hard or open strongly. Long serves are usually very fast to the corners or the crossover point.

Let us examine the main serves and grips and think which part of the ball to contact, where on the racket and where the ball should bounce on the table (where on the player’s own side first).


NB Most FH serves can easily be executed with concave or convex arcs.

Backspin Finger/thumb Under Bottom/leading inside edge Mid-table/end line
Sidespin Finger/thumb or normal loose Side Bottom/leading inside edge Mid-table/end line
Topspin Finger/thumb middle finger support Top Top inside shoulder End line/30% in
Float Finger/thumb Back Middle or trailing edge End line
Reverse/top Finger/thumb ’blade’ grip Top/side Outside/leading bottom edge End line
Reverse/back Finger/thumb ‘blade’ grip Bottom/side Outside/leading bottom edge Mid-table
Axe backspin Normal loose/‘long’ grip Bottom/side Top leading edge Mid-table/30% in
Axe topspin Normal loose/‘long’ grip Top/side Top leading edge End line/30% in
Reverse axe topspin Loose hammer Top/side Top leading edge End line
Reverse axe backspin Loose hammer Bottom/side Top leading edge 30% in


Backspin Loose hammer Under Bottom/leading edge Mid-table/end line
Sidespin Loose hammer Side Bottom/leading edge Mid-table/end line
Topspin Loose hammer Top/side Inside leading shoulder/top leading edge End line/30% in
Float Normal Back Middle/trailing edge End line
Reverse axe Loose hammer Top/bottom/side Top leading edge End line/30% in

We must also bear in mind the value of the high-throw serve, where because of the speed of the descending ball (we are not initiating spin or speed from a next to ‘dead ball’ situation), we can achieve rather different effects and bounce factors on the opponent’s side of the table. For example a fast float serve off a high throw can be particularly effective and it is also possible to achieve rather more spin from the high throw situation by converting the downward speed into spin.

Remember the serve is the one time you control what is happening, you are in the driving seat. Consider 6 aspects.

  • A sound recovery position (after your serve) is vital.
  • A quick recovery serve gives you more time.
  • A ‘short’ contact to bounce serve is more deceptive.
  • A short, fast service action gives less time to ‘read’ the spin.
  • Try to play third ball attack or gain an advantage.
  • Try to play to the opponent’s weakness.

The first four are under your control, the last two partially under your opponent’s control.

The third ball

It is particularly important that you can follow up on your own serve and put the opponent under real pressure directly. To this end serve and third ball should form a major part of each and every training session. You should know where the ball is usually returned and practise third ball attack until your response is automatic. Also you should know how the ball is returned — the opponent may return some or all of your own spin, or impose his own. You should of course train with your practice partner returning to unexpected areas, playing at times with and at times against the spin. In this way you become more at ease dealing with the unusual and unexpected situations you will face against the best players.

A point to consider

The acrobat can attain pinpoint accuracy through hard training, why not the table tennis player? The answer lies in the fact that table tennis is an antagonistic competition, acrobatic performance isn’t. Every stroke you make is based on correct and split-second judgement of the incoming ball, which varies in a thousand and one ways. Service however is the one exception. Much remains to be exploited in the service area in terms of spin, speed and placement of the ball and in different ways of striking the ball.

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