The High Toss Serve
By Larry Hodges
One of the most effective serves in table tennis is the high-toss serve. First used effectively by the Chinese, it is now used, at least sometimes, by almost all top players. Since the ball drops further on the high-toss than on the short toss, and so at contact point is traveling much faster than it would otherwise, the high-toss server can often deceptively throw an opponent’s timing off by unpredictably choosing to put more or less spin on the ball than he would normally.
The most common high-toss serve is the forehand one with the racket tip down. Before attempting this serve though, you should first perfect the same serve but with a short toss. To start with, you will have to modify your grip. The shakehands player (the penholder player applies the same principles) should put his index finger farther down on the racket (some put it almost straight down the center), pointing towards the tip. The thumb should be on the side opposite the index finger and should be pressing down on the base of the handle (where it meets the blade) against the other fingers. This grip should unlock the wrist, allowing maximum wrist action. Now stand over towards your backhand corner and serve by just grazing the ball from right to left. For maximum sidespin, contact should be midway between the back and the left-hand side of the ball. For chop, go under the ball. For topspin, go more over the ball- though this may be awkward at first. The racket, for maximum deception, should travel in a semi-circle, going down and then up. This way, you can use the same motion and get either chop or top merely by changing the contact point.
Practice the serve until you can control the ball at full speed and still just graze it and can also keep it low and short. Contact the ball near the racket tip for maximum spin. The wrist, arm, and shoulders should be loose throughout the serve for maximum whip action.
Now you’re ready to try the high toss. First, you must practice the toss – it’s not as simple as it looks. To be effective, you must be able to toss the ball up about 8-15 feet high and have it drop right where you want it – otherwise you will have to reach fro the ball, hurting your service motion. When you can control the toss, start serving just like you did for the short toss. Because of the ball’s increased speed it will be harder to graze it and control it. To keep the ball lower and shorter, try to contact the ball as low as possible – just above table height. Practice serving both long and short, to the right and left. And don’t be afraid to experiment. For example: by contacting the ball on different parts of your racket you can create different spins. And by varying your delivery you can add deception. A sudden “herky-jerky” motion after contact is also effective for throwing off the receiver.
It should be clear that you can create spins with a high-toss that you can with a short toss. To do this, try contacting the bottom of the ball from right the left. This will create a sidespin, the axis of which points away from you rather than up and down as in normal sidespin. This is called screwspin (also called the Chinese Unknown Spin). Screwspin will make the ball jump sharply to the right when it hits the table and will create difficulties for your opponent. For example, a normal high toss serve will break to your left off your opponent’s racket. But screwspin, which looks so similar, will break right if pushed back and left if attacked. Imagine the spin on the ball and why it’s there – a push contacts the bottom of the ball, while an attack controls the top. However, since a player rarely contacts the very bottom or the very top of the ball, he will rarely meet the full force of the screwspin, so the ball won’t break off his racket as fast as off a normal sidespin – but it will be very difficult to read the break or the jump when it hits the table.
To get more spin on your high toss, you must use the ball’s speed as it contacts your racket to create spin. You must learn to put full power in the serve. Use your shoulder to rotate into the ball, and most important, you must use your wrist. Without a good wrist snap, you can’t get good spin.
Watch top players to see how they do the serve – and copy them. Also, the high toss is most effective when used with other serves, as a contrast, so develop your other serves too. If you wish, you can also try other types of high-toss serves, such as the forehand high-toss with racket tip up (where you go up and then down, instead of down and then up) or the backhand high-toss.