In praise of the long serve

Is the long serve making a comeback? At the recent World Table Tennis Championships in Suzhou, China, there seemed to be lots of long serves being used by the world’s top players.


And then I watched the final of the Croatian Open (22 May 2015). Japan’s Maharu Yoshimura used a lot of long serves, which his opponent, Tan Ruwui, really struggling to return.

What’s going on?

It’s fairly common to hear coaches (and players) say that long serves are too risky, giving your opponent an opportunity to attack first. So why are the professionals serving long more and more?

One explanation is the evolution of the backhand flick. The top players are now so good at returning short and half-long serves with the backhand flick, the server uses more long serves to keep the receiver guessing.

Another explanation is that the top players are now just so comfortable getting straight into topspin rallies. It doesn’t really matter if the receiver attacks a long serve, because the server is ready waiting to counter attack.

Whatever the reason, it seems the long serve is here to stay.

In ameatur and local league table tennis, long serves can be even more effective.

Up to a certain level (and you’d be surprised by how high this level is), players really struggle to cope with long serves. Just getting the ball back low on the table can be a challenge. If your opponent can’t attack long serves, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a long, passive return which should be easy to attack.

And if you mix up your serves – some short, some half-long, some long – the long serves become even more effective. Your opponent has to guard against different length serves. And it’s often the long serve they are least prepared for.

But, and this is a big ‘but’, a long serve only works if it’s a good long serve.

A good long serve should:

  • be fast
  • go low over the net
  • bounce close to your opponent’s baseline
  • be placed in a corner or to a player’s elbow
  • be disguised (not obvious to your opponent that you’re about to do it)

If your long serves are too slow or too bouncy or a bit too short, then they can be very easy to attack by a player of any standard.

I strongly believe a good long serve should be part of every player’s repertoire. Of course, it’s very important to practice short and half-long serves too, but don’t neglect long serves. At lower levels, you can win a lot of cheap points with long serves. And at higher levels, using a few more long serves can be a great way to keep your opponent guessing and unsettled.

Long live the long serve!

If you need help with your long serves, watch this short video tutorial from Alois at PingSkills.

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About Tom Lodziak

I’m a table tennis coach based in Cambridge in the UK. As well as coaching I also write table tennis articles and make table tennis videos. Read more about me.

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