Serving More Deceptively
Table Tennis Coaching
by Han Xiao
Our topic today comes from Tae Hun Moon on the ButterflyOnline forums. The question is how you can make your serve more deceptive by creating a more confusing contact point and trick the opponent. This is a very common question among players since many players know how to serve different kinds of spin but don’t know how to make their serve more difficult to read. Let’s go over some tips and examples to help you gain an advantage while serving without hiding your serve illegally.
- Make sure your service motion is as quick and explosive as possible. This relates very much to last week’s article about creating a spinnier serve. The quicker the motion, the more difficult it is for the opponent to adjust to the serve. If you can successfully serve with very good timing and use weight transfer to explode into the service motion, the serve will ultimately be more deceptive due to the faster motion.
- Serve with a motion that can create more than one type of spin depending on the timing of the contact and the part of the racket that contacts the ball. As an example, for many sidespin serves such as pendulum, reverse pendulum, and hook serves, serving using the leading edge of the racket or the top edge of the racket will result in an underspin serve, while making contact using the middle of the racket will result in a nospin serve. Serving with the trailing edge of the racket will often result in a topspin serve. Despite the same service motion, using two different parts of the racket to make contact will produce different types of spin.One of the most common types of motions used to create deceptive contact is a semicircular service motion. This motion is normally used to serve a pendulum serve, but the reverse pendulum serve is also naturally a semicircular swinging motion. Serving using a semicircular motion uses some of the concepts we talked about in terms of using different parts of the racket to make contact, but makes it very difficult for the opponent to read which part of the racket made contact with the ball. The opponent then has to read the spin mostly by the bounce and trajectory of the ball. A very good illustration of this is Jun Mizutani’s serve:
Many people have watched this video already, but it shows very clearly the basic service motion that Mizutani uses for all his pendulum serves. Notice how he moves his racket in a circular motion so it is very difficult to determine the contact point as well as what part of the racket Mizutani uses to contact the ball. The video also shows how although the motions are very similar, Mizutani uses different parts of the racket to contact the ball for two very different serves. The only way the opponent can reliably determine the spin is to watch the bounce and trajectory, which is a very advanced skill.
- Use fake motion to confuse the opponent. Either during or after ball contact, changing the racket angle or then moving the racket in another direction can confuse the opponent sometimes in terms of when the ball contact actually occurred and whether spin was applied to the ball at all. If you time the fake motion so that it is during ball contact, then the serve will probably have very little spin on it. However, if you time the fake motion so that it is after ball contact, then the ball will have whatever spin your previous motion imparted on it. There is no single right way to do this, and it takes a lot of practice. A good example of a player to watch is Jan-Ove Waldner, since he used this kind of fake motion very effectively. Another example to watch is this video between Ma Lin and Ryu Seung Min, both of whom use fake motion very effectively on some of their serves:
Ryu Seung Min especially is one of the most effective players I have seen using fake motion in the last 20 years or so. He uses a circular service motion for a pendulum serve, then follows through with a slight upward motion and pulls the racket out and away from his body. This is quite common for Korean players, but in my opinion he performs it the most effectively. Often you will see his opponents hesitate on the serve receive and become overwhelmed at critical points in the match, giving him easy attacking opportunities. I think the effectiveness of his fake motion comes partially from the way he can use a slightly upwards follow through on his service but can produce both heavy backspin and light topspin using the same motion, then use the fake motion to obscure the contact point.
- Make your serves higher quality in terms of timing, speed, and placement. This seems obvious, but to some players it isn’t always what they focus on. Sometimes it’s not that your serve isn’t tricky enough, it’s that it isn’t high enough quality. If the serve is too slow or too short it can often give the opponent a better look at how it is bouncing and sometimes even the label of the ball. In addition, if there isn’t a big enough disparity between your heavy serve and your nospin, the opponent doesn’t need to make much of an adjustment to receive both. Making your serves low and having them barely bounce twice on the opponent’s side of the table goes a long way to making them more deceptive.
Having trickier serves is very difficult and can take a long time to master. However, imitating some of your favorite professional players’ serves can be effective as long as you know what to look for. Try to see how they are contacting the ball and with what part of the racket, and then try to replicate the same serve in your serve practice. Also, make sure to focus a lot on the quality of the serve in addition to only focusing on the type of spin you are serving. This will make your serve much more effective against quality competition.