Closing Out a Match
I had an interesting discussion recently (via Facebook chat) with Gabriel Skolnick, a 2200 player from Pennsylvania who had been serving up 10-8 match point on Marcus Jackson (a 2450 player) this past weekend at the 11th Annual Holiday Classic Team Tournament in Pennsylvania. (We won't talk about the edges at the end, Marcus you lucky devil!) What type of serves should a player use to close out a close match?
Before we get to the serve itself, let's look at the mental aspect. A good serve probably won't help you if you are a nervous wreck. (Not unless you can get an outright miss or a ball so easy even a nervous wreck can't miss.) So first thing to do is learn to play relaxed at the end of a close match. That's sports psychology - you might want to check out the articles in the Sports Psychology section in the Articles page. (See the link to Dora Kurimay's website, which is devoted to sports psychology for table tennis players.)
As to the serves themselves, you have two basic choices. Should you go for a serve where you're pretty sure you'll get a ball you can attack, or get into the type of rally you want to get into? Or do you want to go for a "surprise" serve, and perhaps get an easy point? Let's look at surprise serves first.
The advantage of a surprise serve is it's basically a free point. It's supposed to force an outright miss or an easy pop-up. The down side is that surprise serves are generally all or nothing - either you get the easy point, or the opponent takes the initiative off it, usually attacking it. For example, a fast, deep serve can often force a miss, but it can also be looped. A short side-topspin serve can be popped up, but it can also be flipped aggressively.