I still remember the first time I played ping pong in a slightly more competitive setting – it was a company retreat and I was up against our then CMO, Sam.

A few drinks in and everyone was talking a big game, including me.

About four minutes in and Sam had annihilated me 11-0 for the first game.

How? I don’t know! The ball would come flying one way, turn 130 degrees in mid air and land somewhere completely different.

The next round he’d serve it so low that I ended up smashing the paddle against the end of the table and dropping it.

That, my friend, is the power of learning to serve.

In this post I’m going to cover some of the best serves for your to learn, give you practical tips on improving your skills, and a few tricks I’ve learned along the way.

Let’s get started!

The Importance of Serving

A table tennis player serving the ball
In table tennis, a good serve is crucial for gaining an early advantage and establishing the dynamic of the game. A well-executed serve can put your opponent on the defensive right from the start, forcing them to make mistakes or weak returns that you can capitalize on to win points outright.

Mastering table tennis serves, such as the popular chop serve, gives you a powerful weapon to use in your arsenal and your opponents will remain guessing.

Gaining an Early Advantage

Securing even a two-point lead early in the game can set the tone for the rest of the match, making it difficult for your opponent to catch up. By focusing on your serves and selecting the ones that create the most difficulty for your particular opponent (and their weaknesses), you can gain this early advantage and maintain control throughout the game.

The key is to avoid allowing the opponent to become accustomed to your serves, so they are constantly on their toes, trying to anticipate your next move. This makes it easy for them to make mistakes.

Understanding Ping Pong Serving Rules

A table tennis player serving the ball from the right half court
To truly master the art of serving, it’s essential to understand the rules of table tennis serving first.

The match umpire enforces these three service rules, to maintain fairness in the game.

A legal serve requires the server to hold the ball in the palm of their hand, above the table and behind the end line, throw it up vertically at least 6 inches, and strike the ball so that it bounces once on their side of the table and then once on the receiver’s side.

It’s important to note that table tennis does not include a second serve, unlike tennis. Serving priority in table tennis is determined through a random event, such as guessing which hand the ball is hidden under. Adhering to these serving rules is crucial for maintaining fairness and keeping the game enjoyable for both players.

Proper Ball Placement

During a serve, the ball must be positioned above the playing surface and behind the server’s end line, ensuring that the opponent can observe it at all times. The ball should be held in a stationary, fully open palm, and rise to a minimum of 16cm (6.3 inches) when leaving the palm of the free hand during a serve.

If the umpire is uncertain regarding the legality of a service, they may declare a let and issue a warning to the server. Failure to serve legally after such a warning will result in a point awarded to the receiver.

Serving in Singles vs. Doubles

In singles, the server must serve diagonally across the table, while in doubles, the server must serve from the right side of the table to the right side. The middle white line on the table serves as a guide to ascertain the validity of serves in doubles.

Adhering to these specific rules for singles and doubles matches is crucial for ensuring fair play and consistent gameplay in table tennis.

Essential Ping Pong Serve Techniques

A table tennis player performing a backspin serve
There are several essential table tennis serve techniques that every player should master, including backspin, topspin, sidespin, pendulum, reverse pendulum, hook, ghost, backhand, and fast/deep serves.

These techniques each have their unique advantages and can be employed strategically during a match to keep your opponent guessing and off-balance.

By learning and perfecting these serve techniques, you can take your game to the next level and become a winning player. Before getting into some of the more complex serves, make sure to study the proper ways to hold your paddle.

The Backspin Serve

The backspin serve is a technique that imparts only backspin. It is popularly known as the chop serve and is the easiest serve to be kept short.

It is the most effective at preventing service return kill shots, making it a great option when facing opponents who employ aggressive looping tactics.

The half-long chop serve, which appears to bounce twice but in reality only bounces once on the opponent’s side, can be difficult to read, causing many players to opt for a safe push instead of looping the ball. This can lead to a long push, giving the server more time to prepare for an attacking shot.

This is definitely the most important and foundational serve for you to master.

The Topspin Serve

The topspin serve is another essential serve technique that offers unique advantages. It is particularly effective against opponents who struggle with returning topspin shots or who have a weak backhand. By mastering the topspin serve, you can exploit these weaknesses and gain an upper hand in the match.

The Sidespin Serve

The sidespin serve in table tennis produces a spin on the ball, resulting in it moving sideways when it bounces off the table. This type of serve can be particularly effective in disrupting your opponent’s rhythm and making it difficult for them to predict the trajectory of the ball.

By incorporating the sidespin serve into your arsenal, you can keep your opponent guessing and increase your chances of winning points.

This is probably my favorite serve to use when playing beginner games (e.g. in the office or coworking space) – it won’t take you long to learn but most new players won’t be able to handle returning it.

The Pendulum Serve

The pendulum serve is similar to the forehand chop service in table tennis, yet instead of striking directly underneath the ball for backspin, one would strike more of the side of the ball to impart sidespin.

This serve can be particularly effective when performed crosscourt from the backhand side, sending the ball deep into the opponent’s backhand and making it challenging for them to hit effective kill shots.

The spin and placement of the pendulum serve can be difficult for opponents to read, making it a great tool for catching them off guard. It can also be used to set up a powerful attack, as the opponent will be forced to move to the backhand side to return the serve. While it’s still possible to return, it’s quite clumsy and usually leaves them vulnerable.

The Reverse Pendulum Serve

The reverse pendulum serve is the inverse of the pendulum serve (who would’ve guessed?), with the racket traversing from left to right to generate the opposite type of sidespin. This serve primarily produces spin through wrist movement, as opposed to other serves, such as the shovel serve, which rely mostly on arm motion.

As a result, the reverse pendulum serve is simpler to execute and more convenient to vary spin, making it a valuable addition to your serving repertoire.

The Hook Serve

The hook serve is a type of serve where the ball is struck with a high amount of spin, causing it to curve while still in the air and land in the opponent’s court. The proper technique for executing a hook serve involves holding the bat loosely and standing with the right leg forward.

The ball should be tossed slightly higher than usual and struck with a great deal of spin. By mastering the hook serve, you can catch your adversary off guard and increase your chances of winning points. It’s super difficult to estimate the intensity of the curve while the ball is in the air.

The Ghost Serve

The ghost serve is a variant of the chop serve used in table tennis. It involves bouncing the ball off the opponent’s side with a heavy backspin, causing the ball to be drawn back to the net. The ghost serve is executed by striking the ball with a flat paddle, making contact extremely close to the table, with the paddle angled slightly downward.

This serve can be an effective way to surprise your opponent and can be used to position yourself for a successful shot or to disrupt your opponent’s flow.

The Backhand Serve

The backhand serve is a type of serve where the player hits the ball with the back of their paddle. Though more complex than the forehand serve, the backhand serve can be a potent technique when utilized properly. Mostly because it throws them off the standard “pattern”.

To perform a backhand serve, one should begin by positioning their feet shoulder-width apart and their non-dominant hand on the handle of the paddle. Subsequently, the paddle should be swung back and up, followed by a forward and down motion, making contact with the ball on the back of the paddle.

This one can take some time to get used to but is yet another super valuable tool to mix your game up.

The Fast/Deep Serve

The fast/deep serve is a type of serve that is used to swiftly and intensely place the ball on the opponent’s side of the table. This serve can be particularly effective in catching your opponent off guard and taking control of the game from the outset.

Executing the fast/deep serve requires proper ball placement, varying spin, speed, and placement, as well as mastering deceptive serves.

The key here is to start further back, bounce the the ball super close to your own end line so it travels a long distance, and try to keep the ball as low possible.

Perfecting Your Serves

A table tennis player performing a consistent toss
In order to perfect your table tennis serve, it’s essential to develop a consistent toss, vary spin, speed, and placement, master deceptive serves, and match the serve to your own strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses.

By focusing on these aspects of serving and practicing regularly, you can take your game to new heights and (hopefully) become a winning table tennis player.

Developing a Consistent Toss

Getting a consistent toss is one of the most important skills as it allows for greater control over the spin, speed, and placement of the ball. To ensure a consistent toss, you need to maintain a locked wrist and use your entire arm for the toss.

On top of that, the angle of the toss should be adjusted to the preferred side of the table. By developing a consistent toss, you can improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your serves.

Varying Spin, Speed, and Placement

Varying spin, speed, and placement is important because it enables you to keep your opponent guessing and it becomes more challenging for them to return your serve.

This can be achieved through the use of various grips, stances, and techniques, as well as by adjusting the angle of the racket and the timing of the swing.

By mastering the art of varying your serve, you can effectively wreck your opponent’s rhythm and gain a competitive edge in your matches.

Mastering Deceptive Serves

Focusing on deceptive serves in table tennis is amazing because it enables you to confuse your opponent and get an edge in almost any match.

To practice this skill, you should try to make the service motion angled and then abruptly transition to a flat contact or alter direction on the ball contact. Additionally, using a semi-circular motion or faking backspin with the racket can also work well.

Check out some YouTube videos on this and get advice from experienced players at your local hall, most tend to be quite generous.

Matching the Serve to Your Strengths and Opponent’s Weaknesses

Matching the serve to your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses in ping pong is one of the best skills you can develop, as it massively increases the chances of you winning the point. Assess your opponent’s playing style and focus on the serves that create the most difficulty for them.

By tailoring your serves to exploit your opponent’s vulnerabilities and play to your own strengths, you can maximize your chances of success in your matches.

Common Serving Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

A table tennis player making an illegal serve
Even the best players can make common mistakes when serving. By being aware of these issues and taking steps to avoid them, you can improve your game and become a more consistent, effective server.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these common mistakes and how to prevent them.

llegal Tosses and Toss Heights

Illegal tosses and toss heights can result in point deductions and disrupt the flow of the game. To avoid these mistakes, ensure that the ball is thrown sufficiently high, following the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) rules which specify that the ball must be tossed between 16 cm and 25 cm in height and no more than 30 cm away from the table.

Practicing proper throwing technique and adhering to these rules will help you maintain a legal serve and keep you out of trouble with both the umpire and your (fr)enemy.

Predictability and Rhythm

Having a predictable and rhythmical serve can be a good skill to have, as it enables you to manipulate the spin, velocity, and placement of the ball. But repeatedly using the same serve can easily let your opponent to adjust and anticipate your moves, making it easier for them to return your serves.

To avoid falling into a predictable rhythm, practice varying your serves, incorporating different spins, speeds, and placements to keep your opponent guessing and off-balance.

Faulty Service Techniques

Faulty service techniques, such as incorrect grips, improper body positioning, and inaccurate leg placement, can severely hinder your serving abilities. To prevent these errors, focus on learning proper technique and practicing regularly. YouTube is your friend here.

Assess your serving technique, and make adjustments as needed to ensure the most effective and powerful serves possible.

Mistimed Contact and Spin Errors

Mistimed contact and spin errors happen when the ball is not hit at the ideal timing or with the correct spin, resulting in the ball not travelling in the direction you want it to or at least not producing the desired effect. To avoid these issues, practice your serves with a focus on proper technique and timing.

Observe the ball’s trajectory and spin to detect any mistimed contact or spin errors, and make adjustments as needed to improve your serve.

After each “failed” serve, try to ask yourself what you did wrong. Pay attention to your mistakes and analyze your gameplay while practicing instead of while in a competitive setting.

Practice Drills for Improving Your Serve

A table tennis player performing a fast deep serve
Regular practice is essential for improving your serving and developing consistency, accuracy, and effectiveness. By incorporating various practice drills into your training routine, you can sharpen your serving skills and become a 10x better player.

In this section, we’ll explore several practice drills that can help you improve your serve and take your game to the next level.

Target Practice

An image of a person performing a ping pong serve during target practice
arget practice is an effective drill for improving your serves. By aiming for specific targets on the table, usually corners or specifically marked areas, you can enhance your accuracy and consistency in your serves.

Regular target practice can also help you become more familiar with the various types of serves and how to use them effectively in your future matches.

Solo Serve Practice

Solo serve practice is another important drill. By using a box of balls and serving them one after another, you can focus on improving your technique and consistency without the pressure of an opponent.

Solo serve practice is considered one of the most effective methods for enhancing your table tennis serves, and can be easily incorporated into your training routine.

Serve Variation Drills

Serve variation drills involve practicing various serves, including backspin, topspin, sidespin, and more. These drills help to enhance your capacity to vary your serves and make them more challenging for your opponent to interpret.

By incorporating serve variation drills into your practice sessions, you can become more versatile and unpredictable in your serving game.

Serving Under Pressure: Match-like Practice

Serving under pressure is an essential skill for any table tennis player, as it can greatly impact your performance during a match. Practicing your serves in a match-like environment, such as playing against a partner or even a ping pong robot, can help you improve your ability to serve accurately and consistently under pressure.

This type of practice can also help you develop mental toughness and resilience, which are critical factors for success in competitive table tennis, whatever that means in your instance.

Consistency and Endurance Drills

Consistency and endurance drills involve practicing your serves for an extended period, usually 30 minutes or more. These drills help to enhance your ability to sustain accuracy and consistency in your serves over a long duration.

By incorporating consistency and endurance drills into your training routine, you can improve your overall serving performance and stamina during matches.

Wrapping Up

Shocking, a huge amount of this boils down to basic skills like understanding your opponent and getting enough practice with different types of serves – who would’ve guessed.

I hope you learned at least a few new tricks or perhaps got a good reminder when it comes to good playing habits like analyzing your practice sessions more intensely.

If you’re just getting started with the sport, check out our guide to the best ping pong paddles as well as the ultimate guide to the best ping pong tables. This might save you a bunch of money assuming you’ve not already made the investments.

Keep practicing, stay focused, and never stop improving – the perfect serve is within your reach!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the rules for serving on the side in ping pong?

The rules for serving on the side require that the server must hold the ball in an open palm and throw it up at least 6 inches. The ball should then be struck so that it bounces first on the server’s side of the table before crossing over to the opposite side.

The winner has the option to serve, receive the ball, or choose the side of the table they would like to play from.

How many serves per person in ping pong?

Each player gets two serves before the service switches to their opponent. When playing doubles, it alternates between players on the same team with every two points.

Ultimately, each player will receive one serve at a time until the game is won.

Can you bounce the ball before you serve in ping pong?

No, this is not allowed as part of regular game play. The ball must first hit your side of the table, then your opponent’s, before either player can take a shot.

How is ping pong played?

Ping pong is a game played by two or four players on a table divided into two sides using paddles to hit a light ball back and forth over the net. The game ends when one player fails to return the ball correctly, resulting in a point for the opposing side.

Players must use strategy and skill to hit the ball with their paddle so that their opponent cannot return it.

Good luck and have fun!