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  1. Tono62 is offline
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    #1

    Service strategies

    Is there a "most effective" service strategy?

    I can do three types of serve confidently: (i) backhand serve from my backhand corner, varying amount and type of spin between side and underspin, and varying the serve placement; (ii) pendulum serve from my mid-backhand side, varying serve placement and amount and type of spin between side and underspin; and (iii) hook serve from my mid-backhand side, varying placement, type and amount of spin. I've essentially given up on reverse pendulum and tomahawk serves, because I never learned to do them consistently.

    In a game situation I tend to vary serves in the first few points, and try to see what bothers my opponent most. Then, I will continue to vary the serves, but I'll save the ones that give my opponent most trouble for critical points (9-9, 9-8 and such). My tendency is to vary each type roughly an equal amount.

    Is it more effective to specialize on one type of serve, and do that 70-80% of the time? I see the pros specialize, although I'm sure they can do all kinds of serves well. What are people's most effective service strategies? Is it even advisable to continue to try to do the reverse pendulum and tomahawk serves, or just work on improving the arsenal I already have?

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    #2
    Interesting question - I am keen to hear too.

    Like you I have a few - BH from BH, Pendulum and reverse pendulum and then shovel in various guises.

    Reverse pendulum took a lot of practice, but it is the one I win most points on serve with.

    I tend not to save the serves my opponent struggles with but rather use them earlier to build a lead before they adjust to them.

    I do see pro players stick to a few so am keen to hear more views.

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    #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Wrighty67
    I do see pro players stick to a few so am keen to hear more views.
    One of my favourite players to watch is Miu Hirano (yes, I like watching female players as much or more than the men!). I seldom see her doing anything but a hook serve. She can do that so well, she gave the top Chinese players hell with it in the 2017 Asian Championships. Now, everybody in the world has studied her service, and it's not as effective anymore. So... what would be the right balance between varying between serves and sticking to one that works for a while?

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    #4
    There is a conflict here between what are your best serve patterns and what your opponent receives best. So No, there isn't a single best serve strategy even for any one of us as individuals, much less for everybody.

    Here are some examples from me, in case they are relevant.

    My "best," highest quality serve is pendulum side-backspin short to the middle of the table. Most people push this to my backhand. I can open with my SP, a lot of sidespin stays on the ball, after the bounce it unexpectedly kicks a few cm sideways. Nobody likes this. If my opponent uses long pips that serve is completely taken away. I can only use backspin, no-spin and corkscrew spin, varying long or short. If he flicks my side-under serve well it's unusable. And also if he touches it short to my forehand. All of those receives lead into losing patterns for me. I can try to get around the good receivers (not the LPers) by mixing side and side top, long, and serving off the wide backhand. But I can't fool around with it for too long if I'm losing on those variations too.

    My other decent serves are short backspin and no-spin. My backspin is not so heavy, but the no spin looks very convincing. Obviously I want to get an attackable ball back from those serves. If my opponent has really good short touch, even vs no spin, it doesn't work. Same if he has a very sharp long push into my backhand. Short and high I can kill with the pips. Long to the middle or forehand I can forehand loop. Those patterns I like.

    If my opponent receives so well that all those normal pendulum serves are taken away then I'm going to lose unless somehow his serves are bad. I do have some lower quality serves that I can try though. I can't do reverse pendulum, but I have a tomahawk serve that can be short or long with all three spins. The short side-topspin messes people up the most. That can also be served from either side of the table, and very short off either side. Some people simply can't deal with tomahawk serves. I will use it over and over then, because I don't believe people learn to receive a new serve well in the course of one match. Or at least I'm happy to take my chances on that. I also serve backhand from my forehand side, but not as well as the tomahawk, and people are more used to bh serves. I rarely use those.

    And then just for fun I have two trickery-type serves. One is backhand with the pips dead and half-long down the opponent's forehand line. Many people push it back straight, high, and short. I'm already standing there with the pips and easily kill it off their backhand. The other is an intentionally long dead serve to his deep forehand. Hardly anyone uses this serve so people often lift it like it was backspin. It's obviously dead, but the muscle memory to lift backspin is too strong. This is frequently good for two or three free points in a match. But with both of these if they are returned well I lose and the serve is unusable vs that opponent.

    A serve I desperately need but don't have is a long, fast flat or topspin serve. That would make my short serves 3x as good overnight. But I never get the fast part, and I'm not practicing serves outside of playing right now.

    I don't know if any of that answered the OP. In general you should know what patterns you are good at, and how your serves feed those patterns against different types of opponent. Then you need to tailor your serves to each opponent's skills. By the end of the first game you should know what serves you will use for the rest of the match.

    Imo it would be smarter to work on improving your hook and backhand serves instead of learning tomahawk and reverse pendulum. They all make the same spins. More quality and deception on the hook/bh serve will raise your level more than reaching the same quality with two other serves that also make reverse spin. Being able to serve all the serves you use from different spots can also make them better.

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    #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Brs

    I don't believe people learn to receive a new serve well in the course of one match. Or at least I'm happy to take my chances on that.
    This is getting to my point. One of my strong serves is pendulum short with heavy underspin. In the first few serves, a lot of people will receive into the net, or push long and high, which I can attack. But by the second set, decent players will start to receive short with underspin, so I can't attack anymore. So... at which point shuld I start varying the spin? Should I wait until they adapt (and hope they don't), or should I start varying the spin before they've had a chance to adapt?

    In my experience, weak players probably won't adapt throughout the entire match, but good players will adapt their receive after they've seen a serve about 5 or 6 times.
    "When you look at the Dark Side, careful you must be, for the Dark Side looks back." -- Yoda

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    #6
    I would actually vary it first. Like I typically serve a no spin first, before using heavy backspin. If they pop up the no spin and you kill it, then you serve backspin and they net it, their minds will be disturbed for the rest of the game. You have to vary the spin, no more than two serves the same in a row. After a while two of the same can actually be a variation, if you have been flipping between side-back and pure side.

    In your example they know how to receive a pendulum side-back serve, it just takes a while to adjust to the amount of spin you put on. When I said learn to receive a new serve I meant like if they don't know how to receive a tomahawk or reverse pendulum serve at all. Or a fast topspin serve long to the elbow - that's one I don't know how to return, but most people I play don't have it. That degree of learning will not happen during a match. Adjusting to a certain amount of spin for sure, people can do that if you let them.

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  7. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #7
    Good posts by Brs. The value of varying spin with the same basic spin is also worth looking at (Brs mentions this).

    When you serve you also want to be thinking about what kinds of returns you want to get. What do I mean? I know a few players who actually, purposely serve a lot of topspin serves because they are good at when the opponent opens and they get to counter off the return of serve.

    I personally like attacking backspin, so I will do what I can to get people to return backspin to me. For me, for that, I will do a lot of going between backspin and no spin and varying the amount of backspin on any of the backspin serves. If the amount of spin is constantly changing, you will get a few push returns that are an inch or so higher and that makes those balls really easy to attack all out.

    Also, the angle you serve to the opponent can cut off the angles they have for returning the serve. If your serve is deep enough outside of the BH side, then, even if the return goes around the net it will still be angled towards your BH side so you can position yourself for the return (same for serves to the wide FH). Left handed players will often use this well vs right handed players: they will bring the righty to the wide FH side and just be waiting for the ball coming back with the whole BH side of the table open and the right handed player having to angle the return to pretty much where they made the serve.

    Or serving so that the ball is coming to the FH side but the sidespin causes it to curve (towards BH side) into the crossover point, or with reverse spin, getting the ball to go towards the crossover point and curve towards the FH side, these things can make it so you make the opponent give you awkward returns that enable you to take control of the point.

    And from my perspective, learning to use your serves to set yourself up rather than thinking of using the serves to just win you points, will help you develop much stronger strategies during matches. And it is worth noting, serves that will win you points vs weaker players or players at your own level.....when you use those serves vs higher level players, those serves will result in returns that make you not so happy.

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  8. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #8
    This is what I was talking about with serve angle and left handed servers. This is a video of He Zhi Wen basically giving Werner Schlager some dancing lessons:
    You can see that, from the high angle of the serve, He Zhi Wen does not have to move. For Schlager's return to come back on the table, it has to be angled towards where He Zhi Wen is already standing. For a right handed player, if you do this to the wide BH of your opponent you can sit on your BH corner and take the whole table with your FH.

    Now.....you would first have to practice getting that kind of angle on your serves; If you are wide of your own BH side, it is easier to get a bigger angle. But then you would also have to get used to receiving the return. But, when you are able to do it, it pretty much ensures you know where the return is coming......unless your opponent is very good at going around the net and is able to get the return to roll instead of bouncing:
    When you go around the net, because the net is not in the way and you don't need to go over the net, you can get returns that roll if you know what you are doing. So, that is a risk if the opponent knows how to do that.

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  9. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #9
    Two people who should jump on this thread and add some information are Der_Echte and NextLevel. Both of them have very good information on strategies for serving.

    And I do think, before you get to a certain level, you underestimate the value of no-spin and varying the amount of spin and how small changes in the amount of spin with pretty much the same serve can give you returns that are just loose enough for you to do what you want with the return of serve.

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    #10
    Quote Originally Posted by UpSideDownCarl
    This is what I was talking about with serve angle and left handed servers. This is a video of He Zhi Wen basically giving Werner Schlager some dancing lessons:
    That is a great video of Juanito! 😄 I proves that a good serve strategy will work even against (former) a World Champion!

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  11. IB66 is offline
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    #11
    Brs and Carl’s posts are really solid!!
    One of Der_Echte’s favourite troublemakers is Matt Hetherington, he did a great video about ‘what is a good serve?’ Definitely worth a look.

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  12. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #12
    Quote Originally Posted by IB66
    Brs and Carl’s posts are really solid!!
    One of Der_Echte’s favourite troublemakers is Matt Hetherington, he did a great video about ‘what is a good serve?’ Definitely worth a look.
    Any chance you can post the video in this thread. Matt is great at teaching all the subtle details about service and serve strategies.
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    #13
    Ive been working a lot more on my serves in the last year than in the previous 30 years of playing TT...

    starting from so low that I think thats where i can improve most.

    there's tons of strategies, and it depends on what you know to do behind your serves, and also your opponent.

    what i think is important is :

    - learn to do different spins and placements with nearly the same motion, to confuse and surprise the opponent. with pendulum serve, with sidespin/no sidespin, backspin/no-spin/topspin. straight, middle cross, long/half long/short/short side of the table

    - learn at least one serve with reverse sidespin so either BH / hook / YG / tomahawk / .... because some people are very good at returning pendulum but not the other sidespin, and vice versa

    - be able to be quickly back in position (* thats where i struggle a lot * thanks for the Ma Long screenshots @upsidedowncarl)

    also one very forgotten aspect of serving, is that if you just change where you serve from the corner, or the middle of the table, and your body position facing the table or body facing a corner)... then even a rather small change, can confuse your opponent a lot. Its exactly the same serve motion, but the effect is very different ! this is optimization ! you don't need to spend hours weeks or months to learn a new serve you just need to think how this new serve is gonna affect the receive and the ball should go somewhere else than if you served from a different place.



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    #14
    Tono62

    Is there a "most effective" service strategy?

    I think there are some general principles that are useful to recall. (1) Short and half long serves as low as possible. [Larry Hodges on this point.] (2) Long serves as close to the line as possible. (3) Variation of spin and placement. (4) Serve to get the third ball you want.

    Is it more effective to specialize on one type of serve, and do that 70-80% of the time?

    Definitely for players with limited practice time. One good serve with a few deceptive variations is a lot tougher to handle than a bunch of mediocre serves.

    Is it even advisable to continue to try to do the reverse pendulum and tomahawk serves, or just work on improving the arsenal I already have?

    Work on improving your arsenal. If you want to add something, go with the tomahawk. Reverse pendulum is too difficult; not worth the effort in my opinion unless you have a lot of practice time.

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  15. IB66 is offline
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    #15
    https://youtu.be/xUz5xEG8o7Q

    Hopefully this will be correct!!!!!
    Table Tennis England level 1 coach.

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    #16
    Regarding serves, there are 2 main types when looking where the ball bounces -
    1) symmetrical - (or very close to) simplified, where on your side of the table the ball bounces, it will then bounce at the same position on opponents side, REGARDING DISTANCE not direction (left or right). So a fast long serve will bounce as close to yours and the opponents ends of the table, 1/2 long around the middle on both sides of the table (3rd bounce on or really close to opponents end of table) - short / ghost serve, close to net your end and opponents end.
    2) Un-symmetrical - (high level of skill required) the aim here is for the 1st bounce to be within the first 200 to 300mm of your end of the table, 2nd bounce is (within reason) anywhere (distance wise) on opponents side of the table.

    At the higher levels symmetrical serves are a little less deceptive, not in terms of speed or spin, but in terms of length. So the idea is to be able to serve all (almost all !!) of your serves with the first bounce being within the 1st 200 - 300mm of your (servers) end of the table. Maybe 1/2 long and long rather than short.
    This makes it somewhat harder for the receiver to judge the length of serve.

    Is it worth learning to serve Un-symmetrical serves? For most of us probably not, I haven't given it a determined go!! but it is sort of like re-learning your serves for a second time!!!! You know the action and spins, but the 1st bounce position changes things!!

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    #17
    BRS is barking up the right tree in terms of his thinking and asking the questions that will lead him to discover and evolve what will be effective for him down the road.

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  18. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #18
    Quote Originally Posted by IB66
    https://youtu.be/xUz5xEG8o7Q

    Hopefully this will be correct!!!!!

    I am making it so the video is embedded so people could watch from here. It should also make it easier to see if this was the video you meant to link to:

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    #19
    Quote Originally Posted by UpSideDownCarl

    I am making it so the video is embedded so people could watch from here. It should also make it easier to see if this was the video you meant to link to:

    Hi Carl,
    Yeah that’s the one!! Thanks for embedding it, haven’t got a clue how that’s done!!!!!! Thought I did well to get the link posted!!!!

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  20. Gozo is offline
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    #20
    I have great one:

    Opponent is a right handed shakehand player.

    Serve a fast no spin / backspin to the short wide FH corner. Even if opponent can return the ball, it is high, now just casually block or drive to the BH side.

    Voila! Another point! TT is so darn easy. You'll be GOAT in no time.

    NB: I am the opponent and my club-mate is the server. I hate him!

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