Getting More Spin on Your Serves
by Han Xiao
This question comes from Fabio Pellerin on the butterflyonline.com forums. Fabio wants to know how you develop a spinnier serve. For example, how you can increase the amount of backspin you put on your pendulum serves. This is a very common problem for many players, since no matter how fast they swing they can’t get as much spin as they would like. Additionally, swinging too hard results in a lack of control, leading to long or high serves as well as missed serves.
There are several things you can do to increase the amount of spin on both your pendulum and reverse pendulum serves without losing control:
- It’s not only about how fast your racket is moving, it’s about getting the right contact. The most basic way to increase the amount of spin on the ball is to practice getting the right contact. For heavy backspin, you want to contact the bottom half of the ball and graze the ball down and forwards. Since the correct contact takes practice to achieve the right feeling, practice against a wall or on the floor first to see how quickly the ball stops and spins back towards you until you are satisfied with the amount of spin on the ball.
- Acceleration is more important than racket speed when trying to spin the ball. You want to accelerate your racket at the point of contact with the ball. This is mostly done by snapping the wrist. Also, keep your elbow as stable as possible when executing your serve. You can have extra motion before the serve, but as soon as you are preparing to contact the ball you want to keep the elbow stable. This will allow you to snap your forearm and/or wrist very effectively in the direction you want as you make contact with the ball. If your elbow is moving too much then it becomes very difficult to focus your energy at the point of ball contact and your energy will become much more dispersed as you make contact.
- Use your entire body when serving, not just your arm. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes that a lot of players make when serving. With almost every stroke in table tennis, spin and power comes from using the entire body in unison, focusing a lot of energy at one point. As a result, weight transfer and body rotation is extremely important in terms of serving effectively. With many players, it can be quite difficult to see the weight transfer because of how easy they make it look. One of the best examples is Ma Long’s high toss serve because of how easy it is to see the weight transfer:
Notice how Ma Long transfers his weight to his back foot, then quickly to his front foot as he’s making contact, very similar to hitting any topspin shot. Not only does it give extra power on the serve, but it also limits the need to use too much arm to drive the ball forward, allowing for extra spin without losing control.
- Find the right contact timing. This is also a very underrated aspect of having a spinny serve. You can serve a very heavy ball by throwing the ball directly into your racket, which of course is illegal. However, the same principle can be used to increase the spin on your serve by contacting the ball when it is falling at a very high speed. This means tossing the ball a little bit higher and contacting the ball quite late as it drops. Shifting your weight downwards instead of forwards and rotating the body to produce forward momentum as you contact the ball can amplify this effect, which is why you see many players with high toss serves standing up and then squatting back down on the service as they make contact. Vladimir Samsonov is a great example of this:
Note how Samsonov stands up a bit during the toss, then squats back down and rotates his body to face the table as he makes contact, generating a lot of spin on the ball using a very short wrist and forearm snap. Also notice how late both Samsonov and Ma Long contact the ball to keep the ball low and maximize the speed of the ball as it is contacting the racket. You don’t always need to have a super high toss to take advantage of this, but having a medium high toss certainly helps. Either way, finding the right timing for ball contact is important not only for having a spinny serve, but also keeping the serve low and making the serve bounce quickly on the table, which makes the serve more difficult to return.
- Realize that the amount of spin is not the only factor in how spinny the serve is to your opponent. If the serve bounces quickly and is short but not too short, so that the ball barely bounces twice on the opponent’s end of the table, then it can be more difficult to read and can cause the opponent to hesitate before returning. The more the opponent hesitates, the more effective the spin on the serve will be. In addition, the disparity in spin between your spinny serves and nospin serves is very important. If every single serve using a given motion is heavy backspin, then the opponent will adjust very quickly. However, if using the same motion you have a completely nospin or very light topspin serve, then it will amplify the effect of the spin on your heavy serves because the opponent may be unsure of how much spin is on the ball.
Overall, serving is a very difficult skill to master even though it is quite easy to get started, so don’t be frustrated if opponents are not missing your serves outright. The most important thing is to be able to construct the points that you want off your serve, and any errors that opponents make are added bonuses. Over time, with practice and experience, your serves should become more effective if you incorporate some of the tips that we’ve discussed.