Perfecting Your Ping Pong Serve: The Rules & Best Way to Win

Ping Pong serve is key to gaining an early advantage over your opponent. Considered to be one of the most significant shots in table tennis, serving can put you at the forefront. There are many different ways of serving, we will take a detailed look at these methods and learn how to serve effectively.

How to serve in ping pong

How to Serve in Ping Pong: The Fundamentals

The first shot of the game is the serve. You toss the ball up in the air while standing behind the edge of the table and strike it with your paddle, in such a way that it bounces once before crossing the net and once after cross it. There are a few things you need to take care of, so it is important to go through this article before you go out and serve.

Ping Pong Serving Rules

Before learning how to serve, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the rules of serving.

Visible Ball

The ball should be placed in your palm in an open flat hand so that the view is not obstructed. You also cannot grip the ball in your hand, as it would allow you to spin the ball while tossing and that is not allowed.

Strike Behind the Line

Another important detail to keep in your mind is that tossing the ball and striking it, both should be done behind the line of the table.

The Toss

To be considered a legal serve, the toss should be done in a straight line upwards, not forwards, backward, or sideways. The toss should also be six inches high, while, this might be a little hard to determine, try to get maximum elevation.

Ball Placement

You can serve the ball from any side, in a singles game. However, in a doubles game, you can only serve from one side to another.

Does the Ball Have to Bounce in Ping Pong?

In ping pong, the ball has to bounce before you make contact. Unlike in tennis, you cannot make contact on the volley. During service, too, the ball should bounce once before crossing the net and once after crossing the net.

Are There ‘Faults’ in Ping Pong?

Yes, an incorrect serve results in a fault during table tennis. So, if you make an error, like the ones mentioned above, then your serve is considered to be a fault serve. However, there is a common misconception regarding “let” and “fault”.

If during service, the ball hits the net, it is considered to be a “let”. Although, if it goes over the edge of the table, the play is considered to be a fault and the point goes to the opponent. You can repeat lets, without giving away a point, but you lose a point for every fault, in ping pong.

Ping Pong serving rules

Best Legal Table Tennis Serves

Here are some table tennis serves considered to be legal, that you can learn, and you should add to your arsenal.

Forehand Pendulum

The most common type of serve is done with your forehand. It is also the first type of serve that is taught to people embarking on their table tennis journeys. A forehand serve is when a player starts swinging on their hand side and finishes their swing across their body. For example, a left-handed player would swing to the right side of their body and vice versa.

Advantages

The spin of the forehand pendulum breaks away from the backhand of the opponent, making it an awkward shot to play on the backhand. For amateurs and semi-professionals, it is harder to play it down the line, so the server benefits from winning the point from a looped forehand. You can be in control immediately as the shot will be played to your forehand, making it easier to win the point.

You can also generate all kinds of spin with this serve and mix up the combinations to keep the opponent guessing.

Disadvantages

For an opponent, it is easy to loop with the forehand, so it can be a risky serve when done to an opponent’s forehand. Secondly, it is the most commonly used serve, so everyone has a lot of experience of coming up against it.

Backhand Sidespin

As the name suggests, this backhand serve goes from left to right. Despite the name, you can serve it pure backspin or pure topspin, as you will. It is the second most commonly used serve in the world, in particular at the beginning and intermediate level.

Advantages

From being able to serve lots of different variations of spin, you can also do the non-spin variation. This can help you keep the opponent confused, as you keep mixing up the combinations.

You can also use this serve effectively to the forehand since the spin breaks away from the receiver. There’s often a last-second lunge as the receiver reaches for the ball, leading to many mistakes from your opponent. When done short to the forehand, some people tend to have great difficulty in taking this serve down the line, and so you can serve and expect a return to the forehand.

Disadvantages

Again, the fact that it is so popular, people find it easier to deal with. Another disadvantage of the backhand spin can be, in the fact, that it leaves you in a backhand stance, and you could struggle if the opponent plays a quicker return.

Forehand Tomahawk

The forehand tomahawk is done with the forehand, tip-up, with a motion that goes from right to left while creating a spin that breaks to the left. Unlike the other famous serves, this can be done from both sides, forehand, and backhand. If you can master the reverse tomahawk serve, in addition to the forehand tomahawk, you can have a lethal combination.

Advantages

Unlike the other serves, this one is done with the sole intent of winning a point outright on the serve alone. A lot of players regularly use this serve from the forehand side into the receiver’s wide forehand. This causes mayhem as the ball ends up breaking away and the receiver messes up as this is unexpected. Done from the forehand side, the motion always allows maximum angle that breaks into the receiver’s wide forehand.

Disadvantages

Players can easily loop this serve if it is done deep to the forehand, especially at the intermediate level. It can be a fantastic surprise serve, but not one you can use consistently.

It is also harder to get maximum ranges of spin, so people stick to serving it shorter to the forehand, at times.

Ghost Serve

Trademark of the great Ma Lin, the Ghost Serve is a tricky serve that is a guaranteed point if you can do it right. Your elbow needs to be closer to the body as you serve effectively and accelerate with explosiveness. The key is to keep your paddle held loosely in a penhold grip as it gives maximum freedom to your wrist.

Also, don’t forget to add the fake motion at the end of the serve, as it tends to confuse the opponent.

Advantages

It is a great weapon to have, if you can master it. It is also good for variation and surprise, but it cannot be used consistently.

Disadvantages

In a match situation, players don’t try the serve that bounces back over the net. The reason is that to do this with any consistency, the serve needs to be slow so the spin can have enough effect to bring the ball back over the net, and also the serve tends to be quite high. It would allow more time for the receiver to move down the side of the table and hit it for an easy winner.

Table Tennis Serve

Illegal Ping Pong Serves

Some popular serves are not allowed by the rules of the ITTF, yet are commonly used for recreational and fun purposes.

Hidden Serve

One of the most commonly used illegal serves is the hidden serve. The player uses his free arm to block the opponent’s view of the ball, making it difficult to predict the kind of serve that will be played. It was allowed before, but ITTF has banned it since.

Loss Toss Serve

Low Toss Serve is any serve that is not tossed up in the air higher than six inches. Some even throw it towards the paddle, as it would increase speed and serve.

Quick Serve

This type of serve is considered not only illegal but also unfair play. Quick serve is done while your opponent is not ready, yet, and is counted as bad manners.

Top Ping Pong Serving Tips & Techniques

Are you looking for ping pong serving tips for doubles and tips for singles? You are at the right place!

Mix-up Serves

The most important thing you need to do is mix the different kinds of serves you know so that you remain unpredictable against your opponent. You can also mix up the speed of the serve, the length, direction, along spin.

Attack is the Best Defense

Always resort to attacking, whenever possible. If you open on the offensive, you can stay in control of the rally, allowing you a greater chance of winning the point.

Always Keep Learnings

Table tennis is a diverse sport that keeps on growing. There are so many new things to learn, improve, and work on, that it is a living sport. You can always improve your game by attacking more variations to your game. Particularly, when it comes to serving, you can add different types of serves to your game.

Footwork

You should always be standing in a ready-to-go position when serving in table tennis. Footwork is incredibly important in table tennis, as it will allow you to play all kinds of shots and fetch balls placed anywhere in front of you.

Keep Your Serves Simple (Doubles)

For doubles, simple is a lot. Changing underspin and no-spin with the same motion is very effective in doubles. Use a long surprise serve once in a while to mix things up, but the general idea is to keep it simple.

Also, make sure your partner knows which serve you are going to make otherwise they are going to have a tricky time selecting the appropriate third ball attack.

How to Return Spin Serves Like a Pro?

When learning how to serve, you should also have some knowledge about how to return the really good serves. After all, you are not going to be only serving in a game of table tennis.

Sidespin Serves

Sidespin serves are quite tough to maneuver if you are at the end of one. Most young players tend to suffer against the sidespin, and even if they return one of these, the return is way too uncontrolled and they lose the point. So, how do you play the sidespin serve?

Well, it is quite easy! You have two options, you either play it with the spin, angling your bat just enough to guide the ball back at your opponent, as low as possible, making it awkward for him/her to return.

Or, the far easier option, playing a well-controlled topspin stroke. You can add your spin, overriding the initial spin, and this will keep the ball within the reach. This is relatively easier, as compared to the first option, but both require a lot of practice!

Ghost Serves

The ghost serves to have a lot of backspin on them and the false action makes them even tougher to play. If you want to counter the ghost serve, you should angle your bat to a short push, but exaggerate it so that it is facing yourself.

There is a good chance that the ball will be lifted, but with practice, you can ensure that it stays within the table.

Short Serves

Returning a short serve, especially one to the forehand, can be quite difficult. Most players don’t understand the techniques used in returning short serves, often making them easy prey for a good server.

Again, there are multiple ways of tackling it, but the ideal one has to be pushing the return down the line to the middle of the alley so that the opponent is confused. There is a good chance that your opponent scuffs the shot or places it poorly.

You can also drop the ball in the other corner, further away from the opponent, making it unpredictable. That would require a lot of practice, as well, so you have to be careful.

Topspin Serves

Topspin serves are relatively easier to deal with. Most coaches suggest playing fire with fire when it comes to returning the topspin serves. I will suggest doing the same, as topspinning the return to a topspin serve, is perhaps your best shot at gaining the momentum in a rally.

You don’t have to overdo it. You do not need a bigger stroke, as relying on the speed of the serve can be enough to even win the point.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Serve in Table Tennis?

It depends on who you are playing. Every player has his/her weaknesses, and if you can exploit them, your serve is great. So, there isn’t any one serve that can be considered the best one, it has to be a variety, and how good you can mix the shots up.

What is the Fastest Table Tennis Serve?

You can generate maximum speed from the forehand pendulum serve. Using the same serve method, the Japanese wonderkid Asuka Sakai generated the world record speed of 54 km/h on his serve.

Why Do Top Table Tennis Players Serve With Their Head?

This may seem odd from the outside, but serving with their head allows players to remain as close to the paddle as possible. It does not give you advantage in hiding the ball, it only brings the body closer to the serving sequence, helping you gain more control.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this was a good enough guide to help you understand the different kinds of serves in table tennis, and how you can learn each one. The most important thing when it comes to serving has to be the practice that you put in. Practice makes perfect, and we cannot stress this enough!

If we missed out on your favorite serve, let us know!

Photo of author

Wajeeh Khan