March 20, 2023 - When to Serve Long

At the lower levels, most players serve long both because they haven't learned to serve short effectively yet, and because opponents aren't yet skilled enough to attack them consistently and effectively. As you reach higher levels, long serves become less effective if used too often. But if used at the right time, they are extremely effective, for two primary reasons.  

  1. The surprise factor leads to "free" points where the receiver misses or pops up the serve. 
  2. The receiver has to guard against deep serves, and so is less effective against shorter serves.  

Note that it does take practice to develop effective long serves. Some develop a fast topspin serve, but a pure topspin serve is rarely effective – most opponents reflexively make good returns off them, even if rushed. To be effective, a long serve needs to be fast and deep, and either break with sidespin, or fast and dead (so opponent, used to some topspin, either puts it in the net or overreacts and goes off the end).  

But when should you use these long serves? That comes with experience. The two reasons above are why I advise players to develop all three types of serves: short (given the chance, would bounce at least twice on receiver's side of table); half-long (given the chance, second bounce would be right about the receiver's endline); and long serves (first bounce on receiver's side of the table is near the endline). But there's a third reason to use deep serves - to develop an instinct for when to use them effectively. Here are some things to take into consideration.  

  1. How long since last time you used the serve. 
  2. How effective the serve was when you used it.  
  3. How the receiver is standing. If he's jammed to the table or leaving a corner somewhat open, it's time to serve long.  
  4. How he received the last few serves. If he's handling your other serves well, it's time for a change.  
  5. How much confidence you have in the serve and follow-up shots, where you might be on the defensive if the serve is attacked. 

So, put variety in your serves with short, half-long, and long serves. Always remember that while Short Serve is an anagram for Hot Servers, Fast Serve is the one many experienced players are often afraid of - it's an anagram for Vets' Fears!