In today’s table tennis, taking the initiative as early as possible is a general trend. Based on this premise, the return of serves reflects the most common situation to switch from defense to attack during the game. The idea behind the return of serves is to gain control, achieve equality, and then work for the attack.
There are several possible combinations in table tennis, such as serve and attack on the third ball. However, the reception of the serves is the most difficult. The reason is that the server completely controls the serves, and the receiver has no way of influencing the server. So, the receiver cannot easily predict how the serves would be taken.
If you find it challenging to return serves properly, this article explains the different types and how to improve your return of serves. Read on!
Why is Return of Serve Important in Table Tennis?
The server is usually in control at the beginning of the game. But tables turn, and what happens when you’re on the receiving end?
Having a good reception of the serves helps you level up. In addition, high-quality receiving can undermine the opponent’s initiative and make oneself take the initiative.
Returning a serve is a passive and active technique. It requires athletes to master a variety of basic practical techniques and have good predictive ability. Also, it involves judgment ability, adjustment ability, hand feeling, and must implement active awareness.
Now that you’ve seen why the return of serve is necessary, let’s see how to put this into action.
Types of Table Tennis Serves
In table tennis, the serve is the stroke by which the goal begins, and the ball is put into play.
The return of the serves is a technical action that solves specific situations in the game and has tactical implications.
Below are the various types of table tennis serves and how to make a good return of the serves:
- Topspin Serve
- Backspin Serve
- Sidespin Serve
- Short Serve
- Long Serve
- Fast Serve
- Ghost Serve
- Tomahawk Serve
What is Topspin Serve?
The topspin serve moves with a fastball speed, long landing point, large angle, and strong momentum. The ball arc is low and skewed to the left, with a solid right-side topspin.
This service is effective if you want to form a mid-range or far-range holding of the ball with the opponent or when you are facing an opponent who is good at rubbing and attacking.
How to Return Topspin Serve in Table Tennis?
The last thing you want to do to a topspin serve is to push. Instead, you can use any of these methods:
- Block: blocking is the easiest way to return the topspin serve. Keep the stroke short and simple. Turn your bat angle to control the topspin, and don’t try hard or get things complicated. Close your bat angle, keep your hand soft and use the energy and speed from the serve and guide the ball back.
- Hit: a block return is easy and will get the ball back to the table consistently. But, it might not put a good opponent under enough pressure. So, ideally, you want to be a little bit more attacking when returning the topspin serve. Another option is to hit the ball with a flat contact. It would be best if you hit the ball at the peak of the bounce. As a result, this gives the best margin to return the ball over the net.
- Topspin attack: this way, you spin the ball to return the serve. Your bat angle shouldn’t be too open. Also, don’t stroke the ball too high, as this may cause you to lift the serve too much. Rather, close your bat angle and brush over the top of the ball to control the topspin. Keep the stroke short and fast.
What is Backspin Serve?
The backspin serve gives the ball a straight, floating trajectory and bounces upward on the table. However, the motion is reversed when the ball comes into contact with the racket with the face perpendicular to the table.
It is necessary to respond to a backspin serve by tilting the racket backward with the face hitting the ceiling.
How to Return A Backspin Serve in Table Tennis?
- Maintain a good racquet angle. Give your racquet a soft grip. Your racquet shouldn’t be too flat or face up too much.
- Focus on getting the return just to the top of the net. Don’t try to push too much.
- Push the ball back, make it short and as low as possible.
- Practice a lot.
The Sidespin serve refers to the parallel swing of the racket from the back to the inside when hitting the ball. As a result, it causes the ball to spin from the outside to the inside.
The flight path of the Sidespin is in a horizontal arc to the outside and jumps outwards after landing. Thus, it is often used for straight forehand offenses.
How to Return A Sidespin Serve in Table Tennis?
- Play a short topspin stroke. This gives you much control of where to direct the shot. Close your bat angle to brush the top of the ball to generate a little bit of topspin.
- Return the ball to where the server’s bat started. However, this may be difficult as the serve may be too quick for you to know where the bat started. The best option is to return the ball to the middle of the table.
- Progress to playing for more aggressive returns as it helps you read the serves quicker, get into position and play faster topspins. Add a bit more speed to your stroke.
Short serves require a small hitting action and a quick shot. The objective of a short serve is to restrict your second ball attack. As a result, the second jump after the ball falls on the opponent’s table does not come out, so that the opponent is not easy to pull, rush or attack.
How to Return A Short Serve in Table Tennis?
- Read the spin
- Maintain proper footwork for more balance as this puts you in an ideal position for the return and ensures balance for the third ball.
- Maintain a proper racquet angle. Doing so requires a lot of practice as it is vital in returning any form of serve.
- Push the ball. You can take a short or long push, depending on the position of your opponent. Hit the ball softly as it bounces, giving it a low return. As a result, the ball will bounce twice on the opponent’s side. A long push takes the ball farther with speed, and this puts your opponent under pressure.
- Push the ball away from your opponent. Keep it low and short.
When making a long serve, the ball is fast, has a long landing, and has strong momentum. As a result, it is sent to the opponent’s right corner or center-left position, which is a greater threat to the opponent.
The first drop point is close to the end of the table, and the hitting point is the same height as the net or slightly lower than the net.
How to Return A Long Serve in Table Tennis?
Returning long serve requires you to be offensive and not defensive. You want to catch your opponent unaware.
Follow these tips if your opponent is most likely going to take a long serve:
- Take two steps further from the table and take a low stance.
- Maintain a proper racquet angle relaxing your arm.
- Don’t rush. Attack the serve with looping, hitting the ball at its highest bounce. Make a fast backhand or forehand drive to push the ball long.
- Vary your placement of the ball.
In making a fast serve, the ball has a faster speed with downspin, and the flight arc is low and long. Therefore, the opponent’s push and dial back will easily cause errors in the net, and the kickback will be high.
How to Return A Fast Serve in Table Tennis?
Returning the fast serve requires an action known as the “active drive.”
When performing the active drive, your main focus is the placement of your return. The drive can be done in the following ways:
- Return to the opponent’s wide forehand for opponents who are backhand dominant
- Return to the opponent’s elbow for opponents who stay close to the table.
- Return to the wide backhand for opponents who are forehand dominant.
Also known as the tricky serve. The Ghost serve is a service in which the cut serves put out to the tip of the opponent’s court returns to the net. This service, if not correctly returned, will cause the ball to go straight to the net.
How to Return Ghost Serve in Table Tennis?
If your opponent makes a Ghost serve, do the following:
- Return with a drop shot
- Hit the ball at the early bounce
- Hit with minimal force
- Lift the ball over the net
The Tomahawk serve is one of the most potent serving techniques in table tennis. However, the service is deceptive and is used by professionals of the game. It is called the Tomahawk serve because it takes the motion like throwing a Tomahawk. This Tomahawk serve can be done with different spins like the side topspin, side underspin, etc.
How to Return Tomahawk Serve in Table Tennis?
- Keep your racquet angle high
- Anticipate and predict the ball movement like a predator who wants to ambush its prey.
- Loop the ball. You can also brush the ball back with a soft shot.
- Be deceptive and vary your placement.
How to improve your return of serve?
To improve your table tennis skills, you should work on your return of serves. Here is how to do so:
- Returning a serve can be difficult as it comes with a lot of uncertainty and worry. So be calm and simplify your approach. The simplest way to return any serve is to topspin it. Topspin strokes are safe, positive, and give you more control of the rally.
- Practice the serves consistently, noting the appropriate placement of the ball.
- Practice the various strokes as this will help you improve your return with the appropriate block, hit, or loop.
- Have a workout routine before and after each game. Nothing strenuous, just a few stretches will do. Little exercises will help you avoid potential injuries.
- While playing table tennis, many movements are made in many directions, so you must strengthen your footwork. The footwork is important for balance and quick action. The only way to strengthen your footwork is to practice the appropriate movements.
- Challenge your rivals. Aside from having a partner to play with, it would be best to reach out to better players or rivals with different play styles. Doing so would help you improve your tactics and prepare you for future opponents.
- Study better players in the game and also your opponents. In the case of a tournament, watch out for your next opponent’s game style, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Be smart and deceptive. Take the appropriate stroke and at the right time. It would be best if you had a strategy, practice the strategy constantly and learn from mistakes.
Above is the complete set of table tennis serves return techniques. I hope it will be helpful for your practice.
What is your favorite serve? Do you train for the service in any particular way?
My name is Cosmos Boll and I’m 26 years old. I’m Chinese and live in Shanghai.
I am a table tennis enthusiast and a professional table tennis coach.
My idol is Timo Boll who is the greatest player in the world.