Advanced Table Tennis Serve
(and advanced return of serve)

Master the advanced table tennis serve.
Improve your table tennis service technique and win more games.

 By Martin Hughes
 Owner and Editor

Advanced table tennis serve

The advanced table tennis serve is one of the most important table tennis techniques you can master because it can give you a fantastic advantage at the start of a point.

However, before you can become proficient at the advanced serve, you'll need to ensure that you're using the correct table tennis grip, that you've mastered the four basic table tennis strokes, and that you've mastered the basic table tennis serve.

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Improving your service and return of service will add three points, or more, to every game you play.

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Table Tennis Service Secrets

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Discover the fastest way to improve your table tennis by 30%

Improving your service and return of service will add three points, or more, to every game you play.

Click here for more details


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Advanced table tennis serve

The table tennis serve is the most important stroke in the game because it's the only time when you have total control over how and where you play the ball.

And an advanced table tennis serve can give you an even greater advantage over your opponent.

So if you really want to improve your game you'll need to have an array of advanced services that you can deploy. And with these services you'll need to be able to vary the spin, speed and direction of the ball.

And in order to do that, the use of the wrist is of paramount importance.

Many top players use a different grip for their forehand service, and then quickly revert back to the traditional western grip after hitting the ball, ready for their next stroke.

The reason for this is so that they can have increased flexibility and be able to accelerate the racket faster, which in turn means that they can impart more spin onto the ball.

Here's a video showing Timo Boll of Germany switching from his service grip back to his normal western grip after striking the ball on service.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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1. Short backspin serve

The objective of the short backspin serve is to make it difficult for your opponent to play an attacking stroke on the return.

You should try to impart as much backspin as possible onto the ball and make it bounce close to the net.

A short backspin serve can be very effective if your opponent has difficulty returning backspin strokes.

  1. Stand close to, and facing, the table and take a low stance. Keep your arm relaxed and your wrist loose.

  2. Throw the ball upwards, as near vertically as possible, so that it rises at least 16cm (6 inches) after leaving your hand.

  3. Allow the ball to drop and then, with a fast forward motion, strike the ball with a brushing action underneath the ball so that it imparts maximum backspin onto the ball.

  4. You should use as short a stroke as possible and keep your body movement to a minimum.

    You must ensure that the ball bounces on your side of the table and then goes over the net and bounces at least twice on your opponent's side of the table.

advanced table tennis service

By ensuring that the ball would bounce at least twice on your opponent's side of the table (if your opponent didn't strike it after the first bounce), you're limiting your opponent to playing a return with their racket over the table.

This usually results in a weaker return than a stroke they play away from the table with a full swing.

(Remember, if your opponent doesn't strike the ball before the second bounce, you win the point.)

 

My top table tennis tip:

This advanced table tennis serve would normally be used to limit your opponent's chances of attacking the ball. It also increases the chances of you getting a return that is long enough to attack.

Try to strike the ball on the bottom/back part with a fast wrist action to impart maximum backspin and ensure that the ball bounces on your side of the table close to the net as shown in the above diagram.

This advanced table tennis serve can easily be practiced alone with multi-ball practice (i.e. have several balls).

Examples of short backspin serve

Take a look at these examples I've put together for you featuring some of the best players in the world.

In the first clip, you'll see Simon Gauzy of France merely passing the ball back to Xu Xin of China. But take a closer look at his stroke action. It's exactly the stroke action you'll need for this service.

In the second example you'll see Ruwen Filus of Germany play a short backspin serve to Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan.

The excessive backspin deceives Harimoto and he fails to return the ball over the net.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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2. Backhand sidespin serve

The objective of the short backhand sidespin service is also to limit your opponent's choice of return stroke, and increase the chances of a weak return.

By imparting sidespin you are forcing your opponent to play their return to a position which is favourable to you.

When you impart left sidespin your opponent's return will naturally be directed towards your forehand side, unless they counteract the sidespin.

In addition to sidespin, some players will also add either topspin or backspin to this service.

  1. Backhand sidespin service stance

    Stand close to, and facing, the table and take a low stance.

    Keep your arm relaxed and your wrist loose.

     



  2. Backhand sidespin service ball toss

    Throw the ball upwards, as near vertically as possible, so that it rises at least 16cm (6 inches) after leaving your hand.

     



  3. Backhand sidespin service action

    Allow the ball to drop and then, with a sideways and slightly forward action, hit the ball with your racket.

    Your racket should be moving from left to right (from your backhand side to forehand side for a right-handed player).

    Use as short a stroke as possible and keep your body movement to a minimum.

    Strike the ball with a fast wrist action on the back/middle part of the ball so that it imparts maximum sidespin onto the ball.




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    Let's see the backhand sidespin serve in action...

    Here are a few examples of a backhand sidespin serve by Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus (red shirt) in a match against Wong Chun-Ting of Hong Kong China (black shirt).

    Both players are near the top of the world rankings.

    Notice how Samsonov's service sets up his third ball attack.


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3. Forehand high toss serve

The high toss service is a very difficult service to perform for the average player, but it's used by a few of the top players in the world.

It initially came to prominance in the 1980s and was used extensively by Asian players, but it's not as common any more.

The benefit of the high toss is that the speed of the ball falling onto the racket helps you to impart extra spin and speed onto the ball.

Your opponent may also have difficulty following the path of the ball as it's tossed high into the air.

The high toss also enables you to disguise whether you're about to serve short or long more easily.

 

Forehand high toss serve from the backhand side

  1. Forehand high toss service

    Stand close to the table in your backhand corner.

    Keep your arm relaxed and your wrist loose.



  2. high toss service table tennis

    Throw the ball upwards, as near vertically as possible, so that it rises at least 60cm (24 inches) after leaving your hand.

    NB. You must ensure that your free arm and your body do not hide the ball at any time.



  3. high toss service table tennis

    Allow the ball to drop and then strike the ball using a fast, loose wrist action so that you impart maximum spin onto the ball.

    Use as short a stroke as possible and keep your body movement to a minimum.

    Your racket should strike the ball when it is about 15cm (6 inches) above the surface of the table, i.e. at the same height as the net.



  4. Use different stroke actions to produce variations in spin.



  5. high toss service table tennis

    Use your follow-through action to disguise the type of spin you've imparted onto the ball by moving the racket in a different direction to the direction used when you struck the ball.




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    Let's see the forehand high toss serve in action...

    Here are a few examples of the forehand high toss serve by Hugo Calderano of Brazil, in a match against Lin Gaoyuan of China.

    Both players are ranked near the top of the world rankings.

    Watch how Hugo Calderano varies the spin on his service, keeping some services short whilst others are longer.

    Notice how Lin Gaoyuan has difficulty reading the spin and successfully returning the high toss serve, allowing Hugo Calderano to either win the point outright or have a strong follow up shot.

    NB. There is no sound on this video.

 

My top table tennis tips:

With this type of service, you can create many different subtle variations of spin. You can apply sidespin, together with either topspin or backspin - and keep your opponent guessing as to what type of service he'll receive.

By imparting sidespin on the ball, you can also encourage your opponent to return the ball to a specific area - which increases your chances of attacking the ball.

Generally you should try to keep your service short over the net in order to limit your opponent's chances of attacking the ball, but you should also vary the length, speed and direction of your service in order to unsettle your opponent.

  1. A long fast service may be produced using a slightly closed bat angle. The ball should make contact with the table within the first third on your side.

  2. A short, relatively slow service may be produced using an open bat angle. The ball should make contact with the table around two thirds of the way down your half.

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Table Tennis Service Secrets

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Improving your service and return of service will add three points, or more, to every game you play.

Click here for more details

RECOMMENDED TABLE TENNIS BOOK

Table Tennis Service Secrets

Table Tennis Service Secrets

Discover the fastest way to improve your table tennis by 30%

Improving your service and return of service will add three points, or more, to every game you play.

Click here for more details


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4. Half-long serve

A service doesn't have to be complicated to be effective.

A good example is the half-long service which is a very good technique to master.

This is a service where the second bounce on your opponent's side of the table (if the ball was not struck by your opponent) is at or very near their end line of the table.

The objective is to make your opponent believe that, after the first bounce on their side of the table, the ball will drift beyond their end line.

This will make your opponent believe that they can play a full swing stroke on their return, whereas in reality, your service's second bounce is at or very near their end line.

If you can vary the length, so that some services do drift long, but the majority do not, you can deceive your opponent.

Here's a diagram showing this...

 

advanced table tennis service

It doesn't matter what spin you impart onto the ball, the objective is to deceive your opponent into believing that, after the first bounce on their side of the table, the ball will drift beyond their end line.

Let's see the half-long serve in action...

Here are a few examples of the half-long service by players who are near the top of the world rankings.

Notice how some serves bounce more than twice whilst others have their second bounce right on the end or side line.

Remember... if your opponent allows the ball to bounce twice on their side of the table, they lose the point.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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5. Long, fast serve

The long, fast serve is all about surprise.

The top players generally serve short over the net for the majority of their serves.

This makes their opponent play their return over the table, rather than being able to take a full swing at the ball.

Therefore a disguised long, fast serve can often win a point outright, or produce a weak return which can be attacked.

However, if the long, fast serve is used too often, or not disguised, it will probably not be effective.

 

The long, fast serve is generally a topspin serve, although it can be backspin and/or with sidespin.

The objective is to make the ball bounce on your opponents end line, or as close as possible to it.

To play a long, fast serve you need to strike the ball so that it first bounces close to your own end line, and then bounces as close as possible to your opponents end line.

You should also try to disguise your service action to make your opponent believe that you're about to serve short, or to a different part of the table than you're actually aiming at.

Let's see the long, fast serve in action...

Here are a few examples of the long, fast service by players who are near the top of the world rankings.

 


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Advanced service return

Once you've mastered the basic push and drive strokes to return service, you should move on to mastering a variety of positive, rather than passive, returns.

Many of the top players will serve short over the net to limit their opponent playing strong attacking return strokes.

So you'll need to master how to return short services with a variety of different returns.


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1. The short push return

The short push return makes it difficult for your opponent to play the first attacking stroke in a rally, so it can be an effective return stroke to play.

  1. Stand very close to, and facing, the table and take a low stance.

  2. Keep your arm relaxed and your wrist loose. Your free arm should point towards the ball to assist with your balance.

  3. Lean over the table and, using a very short stroke, hit the ball before it reaches the top of the bounce.

My top table tennis tip:

The purpose of this return stroke is to stop your opponent from playing an attacking stroke, so you should try to make sure that your stroke is also played short over the net.

You should ensure that the ball would bounce at least twice on your opponent's side of the table.


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Let's see the short push return in action...

Here's an example of the perfect short push return by Xu Xin of China (black shirt) in a match against Fan Zhendong of China (red shirt).

Both players are ranked in the top 5 of the world rankings, and they've both been world number one.

In this example, Xu Xin wins the point outright with his short push return.

Notice how his return was the perfect length because it bounced a second time very close to the end line.

By returning the serve to this perfect length, his opponent (Fan Zhendong) had to make a quick decision - would the ball drift beyond the end line and therefore be long enough for him to loop the ball, or would it would stay over the table and require a different stroke.

As you can see, Fan Zhendong guessed that the ball would drift long and he attempted to play a topspin stroke behind the end line of the table - but he guessed wrong and the ball bounced twice on his side of the table which meant he lost the point.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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2. The long, fast, push return

The objective of the long, fast, push return is to surprise your opponent.

The top players will usually try to keep their return of service short over the net, so that it's more difficult for their opponent to play an attacking stroke.

Therefore, playing an occasional long, fast, push return will often catch their opponent off guard, and they'll either win the point outright or cause the server to play a weak stroke.

 

To play this stroke, use the same technique as the short push (above), but use a fast wrist action to push the ball long and fast.

My top table tennis tip:

Aim your shot into the crossover point (the crossover point is the area in which the player has no obvious choice of forehand or backhand. For a right handed player, the crossover point is roughly in line with the right hip) or into the corner of the table.

Let's see the long, fast, push return in action...

Here are a few examples of the long, fast, push return by some of the top players in the world.


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3. The forehand flick (flip) return

Whilst the push shot uses an open racket, the forehand flick (sometimes called a flip) uses a closed racket.

The technique used is the same but you hit over the back or top of ball, using a loose wrist action.

Whilst this stroke can be used to return a short service, it can also be used during a rally.

If your opponent plays a return short over the net, there is often an opportunity to play a forehand flick stroke.

table tennis flick


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Here's a demonstration of the forehand flick.

(If you have problems with the sound, there are captions/subtitles that you can turn on. Just click on the captions/subtitles button)

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Table Tennis Service Secrets

Table Tennis Service Secrets Discover the fastest way to improve your table tennis by 30%

Improving your service and return of service will add three points, or more, to every game you play.

Click here for more details

RECOMMENDED TABLE TENNIS BOOK

Table Tennis Service Secrets

Table Tennis Service Secrets

Discover the fastest way to improve your table tennis by 30%

Improving your service and return of service will add three points, or more, to every game you play.

Click here for more details


^ Top of page ^


Let's now see the forehand flick in action

Example 1

Here's an example of the forehand flick return by Zhou Yu of China (black shirt), in a match against Xu Xin of China (red shirt).

Xu Xin is ranked in the top 5 of the world rankings and previously a world number one.

In this example, Zhou Yu wins the point outright with his forehand flick return.

Watch how he steps forward and makes contact with the ball at the top of the bounce, keeping his racket open until just before he strikes the ball.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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Example 2

In this example, Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan (black shirt) plays a forehand flick on the third ball of the rally. Even though it was very well played, he didn't win the point because his opponent (Hugo Calderano of Brazil) anticipated the flick and counteracted with a strong attacking stroke.

Both players are in the top 15 of the world rankings.

Watch how Harimoto steps forward and makes contact with the ball at the top of the bounce, keeping his racket open until just before he strikes the ball.

However, Calderano plays a fantastic counter-attack to win the point.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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Example 3

In this example, Hugo Calderano of Brazil (blue shirt) plays a forehand flick on the third ball of the rally, in a match against Fan Zhendong of China (red shirt).

Fan Zhendong is the world number one.

In this example, Hugo Calderano wins the point outright with his forehand flick.

Watch how he steps forward and makes contact with the ball at the top of the bounce, keeping his racket open until just before he strikes the ball.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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4. The backhand flick return

Around 2010, the top Chinese players introduced a variation to the traditional backhand flick return of service.

Some people have named it "the banana shot" because of the trajectory that the racket takes to play the stroke.

Whereas the traditional backhand flick return imparts mainly topspin, this new innovation, "the banana shot" imparts mainly sidespin.

To play the traditional backhand flick return you need to play a forward and upward brushing action on the back of the ball in order to impart topspin, whereas the new "banana shot" requires you to brush around the side of the ball to impart sidespin.

However, this stroke takes a lot of practice before you can deploy it successfully in a match.

 

Here's a demonstration of the traditional backhand flick return.

(If you have problems with the sound, there are captions/subtitles that you can turn on. Just click on the captions/subtitles button)

 

However, the new backhand flick, "the banana shot" although being invented by the Chinese, is now being used by players from all countries.

In many cases, this "banana" stroke will win the point outright, but not always.


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Let's see the new backhand flick (banana shot) in action

Example 1

Here are three examples of the backhand banana flick return played by Fan Zhendong of China (red shirt) in a match against Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan (blue shirt).

Both players are ranked in the top 5 of the world rankings.

In these three examples, Fan Zhendong wins the point outright with his backhand banana flick return on two occasions.

Watch how the elbow is kept high whilst the wrist turns the racket extremely fast from left to right, brushing around the side of the ball to impart sidespin. There is also a fast forward motion with the racket.

You will also notice that Fan Zhendong plays the stroke from different places over the table.

Traditionally you would only play a backhand flick from the backhand side of the table, but the top players now deploy the "banana shot" from anywhere on the table, although it is usually only against short services.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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Example 2

Here are four examples of the backhand banana flick return played by Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan (blue shirt) in a match against Fan Zhendong of China (red shirt).

Both players are ranked in the top 5 of the world rankings.

In these four examples, Harimoto wins the point outright on one occasion and sets up a winning point on two more.

Watch how the elbow is kept high whilst the wrist turns the racket extremely fast from left to right, brushing around the side of the ball to impart sidespin. There is also a fast forward motion with the racket.

You will also notice that Harimoto plays the stroke from different places over the table.

Traditionally you would only play a backhand flick from the backhand side of the table, but the top players now deploy the "banana shot" from anywhere on the table, although it is usually only against short services.

NB. There is no sound on this video.


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