1 – Read correctly the serve. Pay attention to:
a – Paddle motion at the contact point. Not before, not after contact point.
b – Server position.
c – What equipment is your opponent using.
d – Racket grip.
e – Height of ball contact.
f – Sound at contact.
g – Racket angle.
h – Wrist, elbow and shoulder action.
i – Height of toss. Direction of toss.
j – Ball deviation and flight before/after the 1st/2nd bounce on table. At top level you have to read serves watching this only as everything else is masked or deceptive.
k – Point of ball contact (near the tip of the blade, middle, close to handle…). As a rule of thumb, the closer to the tip, the spiny the serve.
2 – Return serves for safety:
a – It’s better to return poorly than to miss a serve return.
b – Watch out for 2 bounce serves. Do not risk a point thinking ‘It’s going to go off the table, so I can loop hard’.
c – Since your opponent is serving, he is more likely to control the game pace. You have to recover it from your serve return, or at least, reduce your opponent’s chances to start a strong attack.
d – Remember what happened in previous matches against the same opponent.
e – Let the ball bounce, in order to read it’s spin inspecting its flight.
f – Use incoming ball’s spin to your profit: Lots of players can’t handle his own best serves if they come spin-reversed or spin-continued (push with correct racket angle so the ball keeps spinning).
3 – Your serve return should be:
a – Placed. Low. Spiny. Fast. Long or short.
b – Done with a purpose, don’t try to keep the ball in play. Use tactics.
c – Varied: Learn to flip, push with varied spins, and loop against any spin.
d – Done with decision: when you are sure of the spin on the ball, play your stroke of choice firmly. When you are confident, you can start to attack serves. e – Done so you gain the initiative. Control the rally since the beginning, or there will be no rally. Push it short and low and your opponent will have to do a weak opening or to push it back.
4 – Find your best ready position for serve reception taking into account all sorts of things like:
a – Can you be surprised by a fast, short or angled serve?
b – Are you positioning too much forehand/backhand oriented? Are you covering the entire table?
c – Can you afford a weak return against your opponent?
d – How risky can you play? How’s the score?
e – Where should you place your returns? What are your opponent’s strengths?
f – What is your opponent’s serving position? Should I modify mine?
g – What were the previous serves?
h – It’s often better to receive a bit far from table than closer, as you probably can move forward faster than backwards.
i – Is my opponent a lefty?
With serves, do not assume that you ‘know how your opponent play’, since variation is much greater than during rallying. Be ready for everything. A couple of tricky serves can make you loose the match.
Here are more related posts on ping pong serves: