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How do you serve in table tennis?

table tennis serve activesg
File Photo Credit: Chandran Mookken/SportSG

By Averlynn Lim

MASTER YOUR TABLE TENNIS TECHNIQUE (5): SERVING

The serve is one of the most important skills that a table tennis player should develop first. 

Although many people believe that delivering a dramatic smash will help win a game, your service can dictate a point within the first five seconds of a match.

Why is the serve so important? It is the only time of the game where you have absolute control over how and where you want to play the ball. The speed, height and direction of the ball is completely up to you. The best players can also read their opponent’s stance and serve in a way that immediately places your opponent at a disadvantage.

Depending on your grip and playing style, there are various ways to deliver a service. However the basic tips for every serve remains the same, and must follow the rules set by the International Table Tennis Federation. A good serve can help you gain quick advantage over your opponent.

Table Tennis serve toss up activesg
File Photo Credit: John Yeong/SportSG

Step 1: Pre-Serve

Remember to always hold the ball flat in the palm of your hand and above the table. This is one of the rules set by the ITTF that your opponent must be able to see the ball at all time.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot deploy any form of deception. Many top players hide their racket behind their body or below the table so as not to give away their intended serve.

Step 2: Planning the serve

Plan your serve to exploit your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses.
- Against a penhold grip, aim to their backhand side.
- Against a shakehand grip, aim again to the backhand side but closer to the player’s body.
- If your opponent is too close to the table, try to hit further back to the table so that the ball will bounce up uncomfortably close to his body.
- If your opponent is far from the table, short or slow, do a short serve. Beware however, that a short serve is usually slower and thus allows a player to attack the ball quicker with greater angles of return.

table tennis toss and strike activesg
File Photo Credit: Chandran Mookken/SportSG

Step 3: The toss and strike

For beginners, employ a short toss up – enough to give yourself time to hit the ball and also so that you’re unlikely to miss. Allow the ball to drop and hit the ball with your racket. The ball should bounce on your side of the table before going over the net and bounces on your opponent’s side of the table. 

Tips on serving

1. Always watch the ball when you’re serving. 
2. Keep your wrist relaxed for maximum spin. If you’re holding the racket in the ‘Western’ or ‘shake hands’ style, keep your three lower fingers loosed and relaxed. This will allow you a greater ease to spin the ball.
3. Do not always attempt to win at your first serve. While you should try to serve to your opponent’s weaknesses, remember that the return serve is just as important. Your serve should set up the next shot.


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