June 1, 2015 - Fast No-Spin Serves to the Middle

Free Points – who wants ‘em?!!! Oh, you, the reader? Well then, here’s the easiest way to get a free point in table tennis – a fast no-spin serve to the middle. (That’s usually the opponent’s elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand, though it varies for some players.) Here is what often happens when you do this:

  • Because it comes to the middle, the receiver has to make a snap decision on whether to use forehand or backhand.
  • The receiver then has to move quickly against a fast incoming ball, often after a slow start as he decided between forehand and backhand.
  • Because it comes fast, the receiver is rushed and has little time to make these decisions and movements.
  • Because the receiver has little time to make these decisions and movements, he tends to shorten his stroke and lose some control.
  • Because it has no spin, the ball tends to “dies” when it contacts the opponent’s racket.  
  • Because the receiver tends to shorten his stroke and lose some control, he isn’t able to generate the extra force needed to lift the no-spin ball, nor does he have the control to get the proper racket angle, and so the ball dies and goes into the net.
  • Because the ball is coming fast, and most fast serves have topspin, the receiver tends to receive it like a topspin, and so goes into the net.

Even when this serve is read properly, most players are forced to take the serve late and lift it, often setting the server up for an easy attack. But unless overused, many receivers will struggle with this over and over. If used two or three times a game, this is a free point about half the time against players rated under 2000, and it can be pretty effective against stronger players as well. It is especially effective against your normal two-winged player, who is ready to receive forehand or backhand. It is a bit less effective against a one-winged looper with fast footwork, who will usually loop the serve, but against that type of player you change and serve fast no-spin to the wide corners.

How do you do the serve? First, learn a basic fast topspin serve. Contact the ball perhaps a foot behind the end-line, as low to the table as possible (below net height), with some topspin. Hit it so it hits as close to your own end-line as possible; this maximizes how much table you’ll have for the ball to drop on the far side. By serving crosscourt you’ll be able to serve faster, but you should also learn to serve it down the line and of course to the middle. If the ball hits near your end-line, crosses the net low, but doesn’t bounce within about six inches of the opponent’s end-line, then you haven’t maximized your speed.

Put bottles or other targets on the far end of the table, right at the edge - one on each corner, and two where the opponents’ playing elbows would be. (One for a righty, one for a lefty.) Then practice serving fast and knocking them off. Until you can do this pretty consistently, you aren’t really controlling your serve. Use targets that won’t fall over or you’ll have to constantly pick them up. (But it’s fun to sometimes use paper cups and see how easily you can knock them off the table.)

Now you’re ready for the real point-winner – a fast no-spin to the elbow. There’s only one difference between this and a regular fast topspin serve: at contact, instead of putting topspin on the ball, you hit the ball with a very slight downward motion. Don’t think heavy backspin; it’s more of a glancing downward blow to put a little backspin on the ball. If you serve no-spin, after two bounces on the table the ball has topspin. To truly deaden it, you need a little backspin at the start.

Now work on speed. Because you won’t have topspin to pull the ball down, you won’t be able to serve a no-spin (or slight backspin) quite as fast as with topspin, but you can still serve it very fast. It just takes practice. Put the target where the opponent’s elbow would be, and practice hitting it as fast as you can. If you have trouble generating speed, stop trying to serve on the table and just serve as fast as you can. Then gradually work on getting the ball to hit the table, slowing down the serve only as much as necessary.  

The fast no-spin serve to the middle is not nearly as hard to learn as it might sound. You just have to put in a few hours of practice. And once learned, you’ll have it for the rest of your table tennis life – and the number of free points you’ll get from the serve over a lifetime will dwarf the time you spent on learning it.