How to Serve in Table Tennis & Dominate Every Match

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Table tennis serving

Most beginners dread learning how to serve in table tennis, usually viewing it as overly repetitive and boring. However, serves remain one of the most crucial shots in the game and a table tennis player can never have enough practice when it comes to trying to improve their serve on a full-size ping pong table. The serve the one shot that the player will have total control over when it comes to landing a point.

While training sessions that focus on improving serving techniques can seem challenging and repetitive, it’s crucial that you learn about the different types of serves and master each one. Learning about the different types of serves in table tennis can help you dominate a match and will prevent you from getting penalized, which can happen if you’re not familiar with the rules surrounding serving.

Ball Placement

When you serve, you can hit the ball from either side of the table to any location on the opposite end.

During a game of doubles, you’ll have to serve from one side to another. This is why there’s a white line down the middle of the table.

Standard & Advanced Serves

There are many different types of advanced serves in ping pong.

Below, I’ll go over the four basic types to choose from. These are the serves you’ll commonly see on televised matches.

Forehand/Basic

Also referred to as a basic serve, the forehand serve is usually the first type you’ll learn and it’s the most common. It’s a great starting point for players of all skill levels and a simple serve to master.

When you’re learning a basic serve, the first step is holding the ball in a flat palm. Avoid gripping the ball or holding it with the tip of your fingers. This can prevent you from spinning the ball once you throw it up. When you serve, you have to throw the ball up behind the white end line on the ping pong table. You also have to make contact behind this line. Avoid leaning forward and hitting the ball close to the net. You should also never start with the ball below the table. The ball has to be visible to the opponent throughout your serve.

In table tennis, a legal serve must be thrown up into the air a minimum of 6 inches. You are not allowed to just hit the ball straight out of your hand, which is a common rookie mistake. The ball should be thrown straight up into the air, as opposed to tossing it backward, forward, or to the side.

As I mentioned above, the ball must be visible to your opponent during the toss. This will prevent a player from hiding the ball with their arms or body, completely blocking the opponent’s view. Doing so means that the opponent is unable to see the ball being hit, which can make it difficult for the opponent to judge the amount and type of spin on the ball and play a good return.

Backhand

Backhand serves involve using the same type of motion you’ll use with a forehand serve. However, there’s one big difference. For this serve, the back of the hand will face the opponent. You’ll hit the ball just like you would with the forehand serve.

Ghost

Ghost serves are another type of backspin serve that allows the ball to bounce and then go backward. This serve is pretty deceptive and can be very challenging for your opponent to prepare for. When using this serve, you can guarantee you’ll earn a point. However, if you’re playing against an experienced player who is well prepared for any type of serve, this move may not be challenging enough. With a ghost serve, you’ll move the paddle horizontally, under the ball from left to right. Many players consider this serve to be one of the most important.

Pendulum

With this serve, you’ll move the paddle from side to side or left to right and right to left. This gives you a couple types of spin, counterclockwise and clockwise. You can also get no spin at all, or under spin or top spin. As you can see, when you use this type of serve, you’ll have a variety of options, depending on where the paddle and ball come into contact with one another and how much power you’re using behind the paddle.

Why You Need to Focus on Perfecting Your Serve Style

Ping pong table

The serve is the only point in the game of ping pong where you’ll have complete control over your shot, at least when it comes to placement, spin, and speed. There are many benefits to you having a great serve.

When you’ve mastered a great serve, you’re forcing your opponent to work harder and they’ll end up making mistakes along the way which can cost them the match.

You can also earn points easily and quickly with a powerful serve.

An opponent may miss the shot altogether, or they may not power it well enough to score a point, especially if your opponent has been struggling to read the type of spin you’ll use. Even if you don’t earn a point when you serve, weak returns will be easy for you to hit, so you may possibly earn a point. At the top level, you’ll see this in action often, as these players are always searching to play an attack shot off their opponents receive of serve, whenever they can.

Changing Up Your Serve

Keeping your opponent off balance is one way to win a match. This makes it more difficult for them to return your serves. This is why it’s such a good idea to master different types of serves. This way, you’ll be able to switch up your playing style when an opponent is least expecting it.

I recommend changing up your serve as often as you can in every match, so your opponent will always be on their toes trying to determine what your next move will be. This means they won’t have any time to prepare for your next shot.

However, during a match, if you notice that your opponent is having a hard time returning certain types of serves, this doesn’t mean that you should continue to rely on this serve in the match to score a point. Variety is key. You’ll need to use variety as much as possible so your opponent will remain constantly unsure of what your next move will be. Saving the serve you know your opponent struggles with is a good tactic that can earn you points and will continue to make your playing style unpredictable.

Grip

Before you can begin correcting your serving style, you should become familiar with basic table tennis techniques, such as gripping the paddle correctly. Even if you’re not a beginner, it’s still a good idea to review the basics of ping pong. Over time, many players begin to develop sloppy habits and playing styles that can cost them a match.

For the proper grip, the index finger should be placed on the backhand rubber, with the thumb tucked on the forehand side. The other fingers should be wrapped around the handle with a loose, yet firm grip. Never leave a gap between the hand and the handle of the paddle.

Stance

Proper stance plays an important role in ping pong, just like it does in other sports. You’ll want your stance to include feet that are kept shoulder-width apart, a foot from the baseline, with your knees in a slightly bent position.

Try to always face your opponent side-on. Doing so will help to keep you stable when you serve or return a shot and will add more power to your serve.

Ball Toss

The ball toss is considered one of the most challenging parts of ping pong, however, it’s also important to know where you’re going to toss the ball right before you serve. There are many ways you can launch the ball.

The first option is slightly in front of the body, which can add power to a serve since you’ll be leaning into it.

The second option is tossing the ball slightly in front of your left or right side.

The last option is tossing the ball higher, which can help you achieve the right angle for the shot.

Paddle Motion

The ping pong paddle requires a looping style until it reaches the back. When doing this, you’ll want the ball to be at the peak point.

Improving Your Basic Ping Pong Skills

These table tennis tips for beginners can help you power your serve more efficiently, can increase your speed, and can have a positive impact on your overall performance. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or seasoned player, if you’re struggling with your serve and unsure why you’re not able to return shots with power and efficiency, it’s always good to review the basic techniques of the game to see if improving your technique or correcting bad habits can improve your performance.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, learning how to serve in table tennis can be crucial to your success. The points you earn with a good serve will often make the difference between losing and winning a match. It’s important that you devote a significant amount of time during practice focusing on your serve style and technique, in order to work on variation, placement, speed, and spin.