Is it true that you should only serve long occasionally? Most players and coaches would say that you should serve short, or half long, most of the time and only use a long serve now and then.
The logic for this is sound. If you serve short, or half long, it makes it harder for your opponent to attack. If you force your opponent to push or play a weak opening attack, then you have an opportunity to make the first strong attack. As your opponent is expecting shorter serves, when you do use a long serve, you can really catch him out and win a cheap point, or get a very weak return. This is certainly the most common service strategy used in both amateur and professional table tennis.
But there are times when using lots of fast, long serves is absolutely fine, and strategically the best thing to do. Here’s some scenarios…
Playing a pusher / chopper
If your opponent always tries to return serves with a push or a chop, then serving long and fast is fine. There is no threat that your long serve will be smashed past you. The pusher / chopper will also find it harder to keep the ball short or find a wide angle, so you will usually get a ball which will land more central and deep enough to be attacked.
If you are concerned about the pusher / chopper returning your long serves very low with lots of backspin, try using fast long no spin serves, sidespin serves or topspin serves.
Against this type of player, I will often use long no-spin serves, which very often get returned a little high with not too much spin, which is quite easy for me to attack.
At the amateur level, especially the lower levels, many players are simply terrified of long fast serves. They do not have the technique to return the ball effectively and prod at the ball with a panicked look on their face. They make lots of errors or very weak returns.
You should always test out if your opponent can handle a long, fast serve. If your opponent really struggles, then you can completely dominate the game and destroy his / her confidence by using a lot of long serves.
In these situations I will make sure my serves are very fast and very long and I will vary the placement and spin. And I will use long serves a lot, as much as 80% of the time. Even though these opponents struggle to return many of my long serves, I still need to make sure I recover properly and expect that the ball is returned, so I am prepared to punish any weak returns.
You like fast rallies
If you prefer the game to be fast and open, with lots of topspin rallies, and you are strong at counter-topspin strokes, then using more long serves may make sense for you.
When you serve fast and long, it is difficult for your opponent to take the pace off the ball. You almost always engage your opponent in a fast rally, which will play to your strengths. It doesn’t really matter if your opponent can attack your long serves, because if you are strong at counter-topspin – and stronger than your opponent at topspin rallies – you will be forcing your opponent to play your game.
This is why I will serve more long serves than most, as I am very keen to engage in fast, open rallies. If I feel I can out-rally my opponent, then using lots of long serves is a good tactic for me, as I force my opponent to play at the pace I want.
When to avoid using too many long, fast serves
If your opponent is very good at attacking your long, fast serves and can attack with enough power that you cannot return the ball, then you need to use a different strategy. In this situation it makes much more sense to use the conventional service strategy – mostly short and half-long serves – and the occasional long serve.
But even when you are playing someone who can hit powerful winners from your long serves, it is worth observing whether he can do this consistently. Sometimes a player will aggressively attack long serves, but only hit one winner in five. The winner he hits seems very threatening, but if he misses way more than he gets on, he clearly isn’t very consistent. So it could still be an effective strategy to serve long. You just have to accept the occasional serve will be smashed past you.
An opponent who can consistently attack your serves, with lots of power is a different matter. If you keep serving long against this sort of player, you are setting yourself up to be punished. In this situation it is definitely better to serve more short and half-long serves.
If you don’t use many long, fast serves at the moment, it is really worth developing this aspect of your game. If you play at the amateur level, and have no desire to be a professional player, then long, fast serves will always be a useful option. There is scope to use long serves a lot more than you think.
You should try experimenting using more long, fast serves and just see what happens. It’s probably best to test this out against a more passive opponent to begin with. And you do need to expect the ball to come back quicker than short or half-long serves. But if you can get good at both the serve and the recovery / 3rd ball, then you really will add a very effective weapon to your service game.
Below is a video I made a couple of years ago about my long, fast pendulum serve. This is a good one to learn.
And if you want to discuss this topic further, then I have set up a thread in the ‘Discuss’ section. How often do you serve long? Do you have a particularly good long serve? If so, how do you use it? Let me know.