How do you win at ping pong?
With a stunning smash, aggressive slice or perfectly placed speed drive?
Nope, you master the serve.
Of course, all of the shot types are important to learn. Having as many different tools in your arsenal as possible gives you more chance of being effective against various opponents.
However, if you can’t serve, you won’t get the chance to show off any of your other shots.
The serve is vital in table tennis. It is the only time that you have complete control of a point. You have absolute control over where the ball goes, how high it goes and how fast it gets there.
You get the chance to put your opposition on the defensive right away and the very best players master their serve to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Rules For A Legal Serve
Before you can start to think about service techniques or trying different tactics to outwit your opponent, you must perform a legal serve to get play underway.
Serving in ping pong isn’t quite a simple as hitting the ball over the net. There are a few rules that you, as the server, must follow.
The ball begins by resting on the palm of your open hand.
You must then toss the ball vertically into the air. The ball needs to reach a height of at least six inches above its starting point before you strike it.
After the ball is struck, it needs to bounce on your own side of the net once before bouncing on your opponent’s side.
In the singles game, the line in the middle of the table has no meaning. The ball can bounce anywhere on the table.
If the ball touches the net on its way to your opponent’s side of the table, a “let serve” is called. For a let serve to be called, everything else about the serve must be legal.
From a let serve, there is no score and the serve is retaken.
How To Serve In Ping Pong
Now that you know the rules of a legal serve, you can work on performing a serve that gives you control of the point.
If you are a complete beginner, you will need to practice striking the ball so it bounces legally on both sides of the table.
To do this, forget about the six-inch ball height rule and simply practice dropping the ball onto your racket. Perform a “push” style shot as you drop the ball and practice getting the ball over the net and bouncing on both sides.
Once you are familiar with the feeling of striking the ball over the net and having it make contact with your and your opponent’s side of the table, you can begin practicing a proper serve.
Here Are The Steps To A Legal Serve
- Rest the ball on your open palm so that it can be seen by your opponent at all times. This stops you gaining an unfair advantage by deceiving your opponent with the ball.
- Toss the ball as vertically as possible and make sure it rises at least six inches in the air. A shorter toss up is recommended for beginners.
- Keep your eye on the ball, allow it to drop before striking it with your racket. Remember, it must bounce on your own side of the table before going over the net.
- Immediately prepare yourself for your opponent’s service return.
Ping Pong Serving Tips
Here is our quick list of serving tips to keep you in control of every point that you serve from.
Vary Your Type Of Serve
Changing up the angles, types, and amount of spin on your serve is a sure-fire way to keep your opponent on the backfoot. As soon as you become predictable in your serve, you lose the all-important advantage of being in control.
Master Both Sides Of The Racket
Usually, a player will be more comfortable serving with either their forehand or backhand. However, to fully take advantage of different opponent’s weaknesses and play styles, you need to be able to serve from either side.
Keep The Ball Low To The Net
Balls that are low to the net are harder to attack than a ball played high. Get your ball as close to the top of the net as you possibly can.
Don’t Give Your Serve Away
An effective server will be able to start a huge number of different type serves from the same body position. Wait until the very last moments to make your position changes. Changing the way you approach the ball for different serves gives the opposition hints as to what serve you are performing. You want to keep them guessing.
Look For Return Patterns
Watch how your opponent is returning different kinds of serve. Once you are able to recognize and remember patterns in the return game of your opposition, it becomes much easier to anticipate and plan for your next shot.
Eliminate Follow Through
This is an advanced technique that most of the pros use and should only be employed when you become confident with your serve. A big follow-through on your serve gives your opponent some clues to the type of spin that you have put on the ball. By quickly pulling your racket back after the point of contact, you don’t give away as many hints.
Ping Pong Serving: Final Thoughts
The final, possibly most important, tip for this entire article is to practice, practice and practice some more. The key to achieving mastery in any endeavor is to be consistent and persistent.
It takes thousands of repetitions of a task for it to become second-nature. If you want a perfect serve to become second-nature to you, you’re going to have to put in the groundwork.
When I was learning, I spent a lot of time serving to myself by lifting one half of the ping pong table and serving against that. This is a great way to practice, especially if you have your own table at home.
If you are thinking about getting one, you’ll be surprised at how affordable they can be. Even some of the entries in our list of top ping pong tables cost far less than you would think.