Placement of returns of serve

Ask the coachCategory: Tactics & match-playPlacement of returns of serve
Oscar asked 9 months ago

You wrote a good article last year on “Reading Service Spin”, for returning serves in table tennis.

What I would like to know is assuming you can read your opponent’s service spin, depending on what type of serve they are serving, where exactly on the table are you aiming your return of serve with your specific stroke?

For example, once you can read your opponent’s spin, do you try to return serve to his or her wide backhand, wide forehand, deep forehand, deep backhand, crossover point or just short and low over the net? I realise with returning left or right side spin serves, it’s not easy to vary the placement of your returns. Otherwise with backspin or topspin return of serves, do you generally return serve to his or her weaker side or do you mix the placement of your return of serves, depending on the score?

1 Answers
Tom Lodziak Staff answered 9 months ago

As a general rule, I try to vary where I return serves, but I will target my opponent’s weaker areas most of the time. Often this is the wide backhand or the crossover position. But for some opponents it may be the forehand side or short balls. So it really depends on each opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

The variation is important. Let’s say your opponent has a very strong forehand and a weaker backhand. It makes sense to play more balls to the backhand side. But if you return to the same position every time, the player may adapt and start stepping around to hit forehands. But if you mostly return to the backhand and sometimes return to the wide forehand, then it becomes harder for this opponent to anticipate what you are going to do.

Another ‘general approach’ to returning serves is this…

Try to avoid returning to your opponent’s hitting zones. The hitting zones are the middle of the forehand side of the table and middle of the backhand side of the table. If you return to these zones with a shot which is a little soft, then you will often get a ball smashed past you.

As long as your return of serves are low over the net and placed well – short, deep or wide – you will make your opponent work harder. If you get some decent spin or speed on your return, then you can really put your opponent on the back foot.