Here are five serves that any serious player should have. Some you might use regularly; others you might use sparingly for a few free points each game. Many long-time players, even top ones, continually handicap themselves by not having the needed variations that would finish off an opponent – and often they don’t even realize it, and so give away a few points every game that could be “freebies.” Since there are three long serves (#1 below), and backspin/no-spin is two serves (#2 below), there are really eight serves everyone should have. But I like to group the deep serves together as “The Three Primary Long Serves” players will remember them when practicing serves, and when playing a match.
- The Three Primary Long Serves, served from the backhand corner, often forehand pendulum serves.
- Deep crosscourt breaking sidespin serve that breaks away from the receiver (to the wide backhand if a righty serving to a righty). These serves throw off a receiver’s timing and often leave them lunging for the ball. (This doesn’t mean you should only do deep sidespin serves that break away from the receiver, but they are generally trickier to receive than ones that break into the receiver.) At the intermediate levels, a serve into the forehand that breaks away from the receiver can cause great difficulty, especially if not over-used. At the more advanced levels, that’s not effective and so breaking serves are mostly into the wide backhand.
- Fast no-spin at the elbow. This serve is put in the net so often it’s a mystery every player doesn’t develop this serve. It’s the single most effective “trick” serve up to about 2200 level (which is pretty advanced) – almost a guaranteed point or two every game if done properly. Against players who cover the middle with their forehand the serve might be more effective into the wide backhand, or down-the-line if a righty serving to a lefty (or vice versa).
- Fast down-the-line (to a righty’s forehand). Also effective crosscourt if served righty to lefty or vice versa. Many receivers try to cover more of the table with their forehand against deep serves, and so are vulnerable to sudden fast serves to the forehand. It also draws them out of position for the next shot. For righty vs. lefty or vice versa, there’s a big angle into the forehand, so it can be even more effective unless the receiver shades over to cover that wide forehand – in which case they may be vulnerable to a fast down-the-line serve.
- Short backspin/no-spin to the middle. By going to the middle, receivers have no extreme angles, and the server has less ground to cover on the follow-up. By mixing in backspin and no-spin, receivers often put the backspin in the net, and pop the no-spin up. It’s important that these serves be very low to the net, and bounce twice on the far side if given the chance. If serving no-spin, use a vigorous motion as if serving with spin – you must sell it as if it’s a backspin. If serving backspin, use less arm and more wrist so receiver will see less motion and think it’s no-spin.
- Backhand-type sidespin from the middle, served short to forehand or long to backhand. Many players are more comfortable receive short serves with their backhands, and have even more trouble with backhand-type sidespin short to the forehand, which breaks away from them, and can be awkward to receive since to compensate for the sidespin they have to aim down the line, which is trickier with the forehand on a short ball. By serving from the middle of the table, it gives the server an angle into the short forehand that cause even more trouble, while putting the server in perfect position for the follow-up shot, which usually comes to the forehand. Receivers often “cheat” and move in to cover this serve, even receiving it with their backhand – so be ready to use the same motion and suddenly serve out to the backhand, catching them off guard.
- Sidespin-topspin serve that looks like backspin. This is the serve many top players use to serve weaker players off the table. Their racket tip is moving down at contact, so the serve looks like backspin, but the racket is rotating about its center, and so the bottom is moving sideways and up – and so the serve is side-top. Receivers often push it, and it pops up or goes off the end. Against stronger players, if you over use this serve they can attack it – so don’t over use it, unless you are a counter-driving player. Use it sparingly, and it’s free points.
- Both types of sidespin. Some receivers are good against one type, not the other. Many players can only serve one type of sidespin effectively. Not only should you be able to do both, you should have motions where the receiver doesn’t know which you are doing until you start your forward swing. The most common method is forehand pendulum and reverse pendulum serves. But you can also do backhand regular and reverse serves and forehand tomahawk and reverse tomahawk serves.