Serving is a crucial part of the game since it's the only part that you have full control over. Learn to serve smart and you'll start each point on the right foot. Here are some general service tips.
Keep the ball low. Serves should always be as low as possible, just going high enough to clear the net. High balls can be attacked.
Vary the spin. Use a variety of spins (underspin, sidespin, side-topspin, side-underspin, no-spin) to confuse your opponent and keep them guessing. Re-using the same serves over and over will become predictable, and opponents have a habit of learning how to return it better and better as the game goes on.
Vary the speed and location. Try some very short serves, and some fast long ones. This keeps your opponents on their toes so they don't know what's coming. If you keep serving long serves, they'll start adjusting their position to play long serves better, so keep varying it.
Go left, go right, short and long, fast and slow.
Anticipate the return. When you've used a serve for long enough, you'll see a common pattern of how opponents return that type of serve. Learn to remember the common ways that the serve is returned so you'll know what to expect, and you can plan for it and recognize it as it comes. Then you will know what stroke to use next and will be ready. Don't simply react. Plan ahead. This is a chess match.
Re-use effective serves. If your opponent is returning certain serves badly, keep using them! In a short game to 11 points, there's no point saving it for later. Only when they prove that they've learned to return it effectively should you stop using it.
Don't give hints. Try not to let your body give away any hints on what serve is coming next. An effective array of serves can often start from the same position, so only at the last millisecond is there any hint of what's coming. If you obviously turn your body to show where you're aiming, your opponent will see it coming.
Learn the Forehand Pendulum Serve which can do a large variety of serves from the same position. These serves can hit any location on the table without turning the body beforehand. With the backhand serves, your options are often more limited.
Deceive the opponent. Once you're confident with your serves, don't follow through completely exposed. With a normal follow through, the opponent can see from your stroke what type of spin and angles you're using. Learn to pull away immediately after contact with the ball, to remove your follow through. Almost all of the pros do this. Watch Ma Lin's forehand pendulum serves, which quickly pull away after contact. It takes practice to have the pull-away not affect the actual serve.
When serving short, here are some things to think about:
Location of bounces. For a short serve, the first bounce (on your side) should be about halfway to the net, not close to the edge of the table, nor too close to the net. Then the second bounce can be close to the net. Keep in mind that at higher levels, good players can flip/flick balls that are close to the net, even if they are low. Against these opponents, opt for the Mid-Long serve.
Remember to keep it low. Any high ball close to the net can be easily flipped.
When performing a long serve, here's what you need to know.
First Bounce Location. For a long and fast serve, the first bounce (on your side) should be close to the edge of the table. This allows you to produce a faster serve that will stay on the table. Aim a few inches from the edge.
Second Bounce Location. The second bounce should be as far to the edge as possible. A deep second bounce will make the opponent have to step back to play it aggressively.
Aim. Avoid hitting directly to the opponent's forehand. Instead aim for the elbow, or the far extremes so the opponent has to get into position first.
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