Many players have good serves. Serves which are low and spinny, with plenty of spin and placement variation. Serves which are difficult to return and win lots of points.
You can find good servers at all levels of table tennis – social play, local league, county, national, international. But there is often a huge difference in what players do after they serve. How players approach this key part of their service routine determines whether they truly have a strong service game.
I am going to highlight three types of server. Which one do you most identify with?
Server #1 – Expect an error
Our first type of server has strong serves and he expects (or hopes) his opponent will make an error. He sees this as the goal of serving – to get cheap points. This type of server is very common at lower levels. Against weaker players, his serves are very strong and he does win many cheap points. His serves can gain him 4, 5, 6 points in a game, as his lower level opponents don’t have the skills to read the spin or counter the spin.
But problems arise when playing better opponents. More of his serves are returned and he is not quite sure what to do next. He is so used to winning points directly with his serve, he has never really developed the skills to recover after the serve and prepare for the next shot. He finds himself watching his own serve, hoping his opponent will make an error, but when the ball is returned he panics, makes an error or plays a weak shot.
Sound familiar? Many amateur players fall into the category of server, so you are in good company. But there is a huge opportunity to improve your overall service game, beyond just having good serves. Let’s look at the next type of server…
Server #2 – Expect a weak return
Our next type of server also has strong serves, but he expects his serve to be returned, and hopes the ball is returned in a weak way. If the ball is returned in a weak way, he can execute a strong third ball attack.
This type of server is more common at the higher levels of amateur table tennis. He still wins some cheap points with his serve, but at this higher level there is more chance the ball is returned. To deal with this, he has developed good recovery skills after the serve and has a good understanding of how his serves are likely to be returned. He anticipates a weak return, and if this happens, he is in a good position to make a strong third ball attack.
This type of server is definitely an improvement on the previous server, but problems arise when his serves are returned with more speed and spin. By expecting (or hoping for) a weak ball, the server is often caught out by a strong return. He finds himself on the backfoot. He’s not quite in position to deal with the return, so is forced to play a weaker shot or may make an error.
Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re in a good place. You have developed good recovery skills and developed an understanding of how your serves are likely to be returned. But there is scope for improvement. How can you take your service game to the next level? Let’s look at our third type of server…
Server #3 – Expect a hard return
Our final type of server also has strong serves. He also expects his serves to be returned. But he prepares for a hard return – something fast, something spinny, something placed in an awkward position.
He still serves to the best of his ability, but knows a hard return still might occur. He recovers very quickly after his serve and gets ready to counter whatever his opponent can throw at him.
What happens next? There are three possibilities.
His opponent might make an error. Cheap point. Hooray! But he was ready for the hard return anyway.
His opponent might make a weak return. Great! He recovered very quickly, expecting a hard return, but the return is weak so he has plenty of time and not too much pressure to execute a strong third ball attack.
Or his opponent makes a hard return. He was expecting this and both mentally and physically prepared. He recovered quickly after the serve, was super-alert to the hard return and still made a strong third ball attack, much to the surprise of his opponent. Good job!
Sound familiar? If so, let me give you a big high five. You have strong serves and can cope well with hard returns. You have a more complete service game.
Serve, recover, third ball attack
You don’t need to be an elite level player to develop a more complete service game. Expecting your serve to be returned is something any player can do.
When you start expecting your serve to be returned, you start to see patterns of how your serves are actually returned. You start to see where the ball lands, and with what spin. The database in your brain logs ever more information, without you being particularly conscious of this. The more you apply this approach, the more accurate your understanding of how your serves are likely to be returned. Then it becomes much easier to work out what your positioning should be after your serve, so you can play a strong 3rd ball attack.
Eventually, this process will enable you to deal with both weak returns and hard returns. And then you will have a truly strong service game.
If you would like more practical information on how to develop a strong serve + 3rd ball attack game, I recommend joining my online academy – Tom’s TT Academy. I have an in-depth course on this topic, with seven video lessons on the following…
- Backspin serve + 3rd ball attack
- Float serve + 3rd ball attack
- Topspin serve + 3rd ball attack
- Anticipate your opponent’s return
- Dominate with ball placement
- Dominate with topspin
- Dominate with power
All lessons are available to watch now. For more information and to join, go to www.tomsttacademy.com