Serve Return Tips | Table Tennis Coaching
Site Products
Han Xiao – Table Tennis Coaching

Serve Return Tips

Serve Return Tips
by Han Xiao

Serve return is one of the most challenging aspects of table tennis. Many players have a very difficult time returning high quality serves, and as a result lack confidence in their decision making and execution. Today, we’re going to go over some tips that will hopefully help you improve your serve return game and change your approach to becoming a more effective returner.

1. Practice against as many different serves as possible. This includes players who may not be up to your level but have effective serves. Playing practice games against different players while focusing on making few mistakes on serve return is a good foundation for improving your serve return.

2. Learn to judge spin through the flight and bounce of the ball in practice, not just from watching the opponent’s ball contact. The opponent may have a highly deceptive contact point and motion or may have an illegal hidden serve that you need to adjust to, so being able to judge the flight of the ball, watch the label of the ball, and judge the bounce of the ball are far more valuable assets than being able to see the ball contact. As a rule of thumb, a serve that floats through the air and stops sharply after the second bounce is likely heavy underspin, while a serve that cuts through the air more quickly is more likely nospin or topspin. A nospin serve will bounce regularly on the second bounce, while a topspin serve will kick forward.

3. Be prepared first and foremost for fast, deep serves. Being beaten by these types of serves kills confidence and momentum, and allows the opponent free points without having to work hard. Shorter serves are slower and therefore allow you more time to react.

4. If you are having lots of trouble judging the spin on the opponent’s serve, take the ball a little bit later to give yourself time to see what the ball is doing on the second bounce as discussed previously. Give yourself some margin and don’t try to make a perfect return. This is especially important early in the match if you aren’t familiar with the opponent’s serves. It is also very important on drop shots, since drop shots are very difficult to control if you try to push the ball too flat. Learn to give your serve returns some margin while keeping them low enough to make life difficult on the opponent.

5. If you are able to read the spin on the opponent’s serve, be decisive in terms of how you plan to put yourself in an advantageous position. You can do so using timing, placement, spin, and/or pace. Trying to receive with pace is the riskiest of these options and should be used sparingly. A combination of timing and placement, and spin is low risk and most effective. For example, using a backhand banana flip to the opponent’s middle is a good combination of spin and placement, while a quick push or drop shot off the bounce wide to the opponent’s forehand is a mix of placement, timing, and spin. As the match progresses, finding which of these factors gives the opponent the most trouble will allow for more effective returns. Some opponents have trouble with heavy backspin or sidespin, while some opponents can deal with heavy spin but are not quick enough to deal with quick, well placed returns even if there is not much spin on the ball.

6. Focus on footwork on the serve return. This was covered in a previous article on serve and receive footwork.

7. Be ready for seemingly short serves that leak half long, so that the second bounce is off the end of the table. These serves are very difficult to drop shot or flip since they are actually coming long, and trying to drop them often times causes a lot of errors and pop ups for the opponent to attack. A good way to deal with these serves is to be able to feel that the ball is coming long after stepping in to receive a short serve, then either quickly turning the body to execute a forehand loop or using a backhand loop over the table. The forehand loop is easier to execute in this situation, which is one reason why returning the majority of short serves with the forehand is preferable unless you’ve decided to try to backhand flip. Being in position for the forehand allows you to quickly adjust to a half long serve and attack with the forehand.

8. Try not to telegraph your returns. What this means is that you can decide on how you’re going to return the serve without giving any hints to your opponent until the last minute. If you know you’re going to forehand push, don’t extend your arm and open your racket until the last minute when you need to do so to execute the shot. Instead, get in good position to receive the serve but keep your racket in its normal ready position. Similarly, if you’re going to flip, don’t give the fact away by preparing your racket to flip until you absolutely need to prepare to contact the ball. The more consistently you can make all your serve returns look until the last split second, the more difficult it is for your opponent to guess what’s coming and prepare accordingly. This of course also means that you should change the placement, spin, and timing of your serve returns sometimes to keep the opponent off balance.

Improving your serve return will give you far more confidence in a match, reduce the confidence of your opponent as you take them out of your comfort zone, and take pressure off your own serve in competition.

Latest News

WAB Club Feature: Song Jeho Table Tennis Club

September 25, 2022
(by Steve Hopkins) The Song Jeho Table Tennis Club (“SJHTTC”) is centrally located in Los Angeles.  The club is… Read More

Triangle’s 2022 Butterfly September Tournament

September 25, 2022
(by Steve Hopkins) Triangle Badminton and Table Tennis Club hosted their Butterfly September open last weekend.  There were… Read More

Pan Am U11 & U13 Results: Team USA’s Strong Results in Santo Domingo

September 25, 2022
(by Steve Hopkins, photo USATT) The 2022 ITTF Pan American U11 and U13 Championships were held this week… Read More

Butterfly Training Tips with Yu Di – The Forehand Smash

September 23, 2022
(By: Bowmar Sports Team) In this Butterfly Training Tips, Yu Di is working with Risheetha Bhagawatulaa on the… Read More

Butterfly Training Tips With Nandan Naresh – Forehand Loop Side To Side Footwork

September 22, 2022
(By: Bowmar Sports Team) In this Butterfly Training Tips, Nandan Naresh is executing the forehand loop while working… Read More

Butterfly Spin & Smash October Open – Saturday 1, Sunday 2, 2022

September 21, 2022
(By: Bowmar Sports Team) USATT Sanctioned 2-Star Table Tennis Tournament with $2,525 in Cash Prizes! Saturday, October 1… Read More

Butterfly Ask The Experts No. 426- Equipment Suggestion

September 19, 2022
(By: Bowmar Sports Team) Butterfly Table Tennis Question and Answer Question: I want to downgrade on my blade… Read More

Coaching Tips of the Week: Blowing Ball in Air

September 19, 2022
(By Larry Hodges) We’re going to have a little fun this week. There’s more to table tennis than… Read More
View All News

Get the latest from Butterfly

Stay “In The Loop” with Butterfly professional table tennis equipment, table tennis news, table tennis technology, tournament results, and We Are Butterfly players, coaches, clubs and more.