The Fifteen Fast and Deep Serves

By Larry Hodges

Can you name the fifteen fast & deep serves? More importantly, can you execute them effectively?

Let's start by naming them, based on the type of spin and placement. When serving fast & deep, you don't just serve anywhere. There are three specific spots you should aim for: wide backhand, wide forehand, and middle. By serving to the wide forehand or backhand, you force the opponent to move to the ball; if you serve to their middle forehand or backhand, as many players do, you mostly just set them up. Often even more effective, however, is to serve into the middle, that spot around the elbow where your opponent has to decide between forehand and backhand, and then move out of the way to make the shot.

For each of these serves, there are basically five types of spin you can use:

  • Light topspin. This gives you maximum speed and control. Note that if you hit the ball pretty flat, you'll actually get a light topspin from the ball bouncing on the table.
  • Sidespin breaking to the right. This is especially effective breaking wide a righty's wide backhand, or a lefty's wide forehand.
  • Sidespin breaking to the left. This can be effective breaking into a righty's wide forehand, or a lefty's wide backhand. It's also an excellent variation into a righty's backhand, as they don't see this serve as often.
  • Heavy topspin. Receivers don't see this often enough, and it's a nice surprise serve that is often blocked off the end, or (because of the jump off the table) mis-hit.
  • Dead serves. To do this, you actually need to put a light backspin on the ball, to make up for the bounce on the table, which puts topspin on the ball. Since opponents aren't used to fast serves that are dead, they often put it into the net. It's especially effective into the middle.

To serve fast & deep, you need to contact the ball very low to the table, from a foot or so behind the table, and make the first bounce very close to your own endline. This maximizes the distance it will have over the table to drop on the other side. Serving crosscourt, corner to corner, also gives you extra table and allows extra speed. Try to memorize your contact point so you can do it over and over; this takes practice. Fast & deep serves are precision serves, and take practice. The more you practice, the faster you'll be able to do them consistently.

You don't need to perfect all fifteen of these serves, although you should at least experiment with them all. You should experiment and find which ones work for you. Here are three versions that I find most effective (for now, we'll assume both players are righty's):

  • Fast down the line, with light topspin and maximum speed (to catch a forehand-oriented player favoring his forehand too much).
  • Dead serves into the middle, where the opponent has to make a quick decision on whether to use forehand or backhand, and then compensate for the dead ball by hitting a complete stroke in the little time still available.
  • Breaking sidespin serves into the wide backhand, making the receiver reach for the ball.

A few notes about the middle:

  • Remember that the middle isn't the middle of the table; it's the transition point between forehand and backhand.
  • Where the ball bounces on the receiver's side of the table isn't as important as where it is when it reaches the receiver.
  • Many players have a "roving" middle. If a player is looking to play forehand, then their middle moves over toward their backhand; vice versa if they are looking to play backhand. If a player is favoring one side, it's often more effective to go wide to the corners, either to the "weak" side they are trying to avoid, or to the part of the table left open on the "strong" side.

Here are some common mistakes when serving fast & deep:

  • Placement - not angled or at middle.
  • Not fast enough. Practice until you can serve fast with confidence!
  • Telegraphed - learn to serve fast & deep with the same general motion you use for other serves.
  • Serve off end too often, or other mistakes. Practice!!!
  • Not adjusting placement against a receiver who's favoring their forehand or backhand.
  • Missing the moving middle.
  • Not used enough!

Finally, remember that anything that is predictable becomes less effective. If you serve fast & deep too often, it will become less effective. Develop strong spin serves, especially short ones, and keep your opponents frustrated as they try to adjust to all your serve variations. Then throw those fast & deep serves at them when they're not ready. Serve long and prosper!