A powerful service is an asset for all ping pong players, regardless of skill level, experience, and style of play.
Learning how to serve effectively will help improve your game and give you an edge over your opponents. But before becoming a powerful server, you need to understand the different techniques and the service rules for table tennis.
This guide will discuss the table tennis service rules and the different types of services you can execute when playing ping pong. We’ll also share tips and techniques to help you improve your service accuracy and power.
Table Tennis Service Rules
The best source for understanding the rules is the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). These are some of the service rules according to the ITTF Handbook,
- Start by holding the ball in your palm face open. Then throw it up high in the air without spinning it.
- The ball needs to go at least 16 centimeters up and then come down before you hit it.
- Make sure you hit it, so the ball goes over the net and into your opponent’s side of the court.
- Keep your arm and hand out of where you’re throwing so they can’t block your opponent from seeing where you’re throwing.
You should serve correctly, or else an umpire might not let it count as a point for you. If the umpire notices something wrong with your service, he may stop the play and warn you. And if the umpire sees something wrong again, he will not count that point for you either.
People who have physical disabilities may be able to get permission from an umpire to serve differently than what is usually allowed.
Table Tennis Serving Techniques
A forehand service is the simplest and most common type of service, making it an ideal place to start for beginner players. Most coaches find that teaching this particular position comes naturally as many people are already familiar with the stance due to its frequent use in other play areas.
One of the advantages of doing a forehand serve is the power and velocity it generates. Most of the power comes from your legs positioned in a square stance to help create more force out of your back leg as soon as you rotate your hip to hit the ball.
How to do a Forehand Serve:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lean your body forward while extending both arms in front of you. It will create a comfortable position that enables you to strike the ball with full force.
- As the ball approaches, slightly rotate your body to the right from your hips. Transfer your weight to your back foot while keeping your paddle at a 45-degree angle.
- When ready to hit the ball, rotate your body back forward and shift your body weight from your back foot to the front foot. Ideally, you should hit the ball at the peak when it bounces.
- Finish it with a follow-through, leaving the racket in front of your body. You should point the follow-through to where you want to place the ball.
- Return to your original stance and get ready to return the ball.
The backspin serve is a hard-to-master technique that takes extensive practice to perfect. Players of all levels, from the pros to Olympic athletes, use this kind of service because the ball’s spin makes it difficult for opponents to return.
The backspin on the ball infuses it with a slightly backward momentum, allowing for unexpected movement when traveling through the air and upon impact. It makes it difficult for opponents to read the ball’s trajectory, often resulting in them losing the point.
How to do a Backspin Serve:
- Rotate your torso to the left, launch the ball into the air while transferring your body weight to your back foot.
- As the ball drops, shift your weight to your forward foot and rotate your upper body away from the court, swinging the racket to meet it.
- Strike the base of the ball with an open racket. The racket should move underneath it and then up toward completion.
- The first bounce should be on your side of the table near the net, and likewise, it should also be a short one for your opponent’s court.
- When executed correctly, the service should bounce several times off the table and possibly even come back toward you. Move quickly into a defensive stance after serving.
The Ghost serve is an interesting service to pull off when you have an opponent who stands a bit back. The serve bounces toward the other side of the table and spins back to bounce back toward the net.
The net result is the receiving player usually has to lunge forward to return the ball, which may result in a slightly higher ball or a poor return position. When executed right, the ghost ball can be a tricky serve to return, resulting in many easy winners.
How to do a Ghost Serve:
- Shift to a pinch-style grip
- Utilize the upper body, arm, trunk wrist in a twist motion
- Establish contact at the edge of the paddle for best spin results
- Generate the contact at around higher than the net height
- The first bounce on your table should be somewhere in the middle.
You’ll know when you get it right, as it will generate 2-4 bounces returning toward the net after it lands on the other side.
As the name suggests, the racket’s movement resembles that of a pendulum – back and forth. Players who do this service usually execute it from their backhand side because the sidespin it produces makes the opponent’s return go toward the server’s backhand.
Also, the sidespin makes it difficult for the receiver to know the amount of backspin on the ball as it has a combination of backspins and sidespins.
How to do a Pendulum Serve:
- Put your right foot behind your left foot.
- Hold the ball above your playing surface and throw it upwards.
- Move your paddle in a pendulum motion, with the tip pointing at the floor. Relax your wrist as you hit the ball.
- Hit the ball from left to right to do a forehand pendulum serve and from right to left for a reverse pendulum serve.
- Rotate your left foot to your right while you bring your body’s right side across for your follow-through.
Table Tennis Serving Tips
Every table tennis player should realize that the service is the one thing you can control the most in a game. It can set the tone and tempo of a rally or even be set towards an opponent’s weak point right from the very start of a point.
Have a strategy in place
A game winner starts with a plan. Part of this is employing a bit of Sun Tzu into your service game: know your opponent, understand their weaknesses, and exploit them.
A well-placed serve can help open up the table for a winner. If the receiver has a weaker backhand, you can force a slice or flat serve toward the backhand side to induce a return error. Also, knowing about your opponent’s mobility helps with the capacity for table coverage.
Know when to change your serve
When you serve the same way toward an opponent, they’ll finally understand how your ball spins and where it’s usually placed. Against a smarter and more capable opponent, this is a weakness that can be taken advantage of.
There are two key reasons why you should know when to change your service. First is to add variety to each point you serve. Top players only require split seconds to understand and adjust to a serve, so always change it for variety. Constantly changing serves keep your opponent from getting a better reaction to the kind of spin and angle coming their way.
Second, to break momentum. If your opponent is dictating the pace of your rallies, a service change can do a positive momentum shift for you.
Add side spin to backhand serves
Adding a bit of sidespin to a backhand can give you an edge in games. A person’s backhand is usually the weaker of their two strokes as it comes from a weaker range of motion.
The sidespin is an advanced move that requires precision. When appropriately executed, it can cause the ball to curve left or right, depending on which direction you hit the serve. It brings an element of surprise for the receiver and gives the server the advantage by forcing the opponent out of position and creating uncertainty.
Toss the ball higher for more spin
Throwing the ball a little higher into the air can add a bit of velocity to the ball as it comes down due to gravity. A good toss, plus a well-timed contact and spin addition from your paddle, can give off more power and character to your serve.
Mastery of your service is crucial to playing effectively in table tennis.
There are different types of serves that you can use to excel in this sport. Depending on your strategy and your opponent’s playing style, you can experiment with variations to find what works best for you.
Having a powerful serve takes a lot of dedication, but it will be worth it in the end, as you can outsmart and outmaneuver your opponents. It might take time, but you must stay focused, be open to new techniques, and practice regularly to improve your skills.