April 25, 2012

Set-up serves versus point-winning serves

I was teaching serves to a new student recently, and started to launch into my usual speech about the purpose of serves. Before I could finish, he interrupted and said, "I don't want to focus on serves that opponents miss. I want serves that set me up to do my best shots." He then explained how he wouldn't feel comfortable if he tried to win points on the serve outright, since if the serve did come back it likely wouldn't be setting up his strengths. Instead, he wanted serves that allowed him to use his relatively strong backhand. He also wanted to use serves to help set up his developing forehand and backhand, since the practice he'd get from using these serves and following up with a loop would make his attack stronger. 

I was stunned - this was exactly what I was about to explain, and this relative beginner already understood this. (Okay, he later admitted he'd read some articles of mine on the subject, such as this one, and in past blogs.) But that meant he'd done his research before signing up for lessons with me, which is always a good thing.) The key point is that while your serves should put pressure on an opponent (and thereby win many points outright), they should primarily be used to set up your best shot, or to help develop your attacking shots (which then become your best shots).

Because of his strong backhand, I showed the player how to serve various sidespin and topspin serves, both short and long, and with placements that would primarily favor returns to his backhand. (I also gave him the example of Dave Sakai, a USATT Hall of Fame player with a similar style of play that favored the backhand, and explained how Dave served to force opponents into backhand exchanges, often with short side-top serves to the backhand.) We also worked on short backspin serves that would set up his forehand and backhand loops, often placing these shots so as to force returns to his backhand. By mixing up these type of serves he'll develop a strong set of tactical weapons to use against anybody.

But we didn't completely leave out "trick" serves - as I explained (and he'd already read), you are handicapping yourself if you don't develop some trick serves that are designed to win points outright. Such trick serves tend to either win points outright or give opponents a ball to attack, so if they are over-used they lose their value. But used here and there, they not only win points, they give the opponent one more thing to watch for, thereby making your other serves even better.

Tim Boggan seeing red

Poor Tim Boggan. He was quite comfortable in the typewriter age, and then the world had to go and invent the computer. He uses one for his writing now (using Microsoft Word), along with that Internet thing (for email), but he and the computer have an adversarial relationship. Yesterday all of the text of the article he was writing turned red. In a state of hysteria, he called me and pleaded for help. (He called my cell phone, another device that continually amazes him. Keep in mind that he gave me permission to make fun of him in return for my help.) I was in the middle of a coaching session, but I called him back later that day. At first thinking he had actually turned the text red, I explained how to change font colors. However, that didn't work. I finally figured out that he'd somehow gotten into "Track Changes" mode, and the red was how Word kept track of changes, i.e. new text. I painstakingly explained what was happening and how to fix it, which is similar to explaining calculus to my dog Sheeba. Fortunately, Sheeba is very smart, and Tim is as well (well, in non-technical matters), and we finally got the text back to normal. But I fear it won't be the last time he will see red in his interactions with that confounded computer thing.

ICC's Three Olympians

There are zillions of articles on the USA Olympic Trials and the four Americans who qualified. Here's a good one that features the three that trained at the ICC club.

Koki Niwa upsets Ma Long

Here's the video of Koki Niwa of Japan, world #19, upsetting world #1 Ma Long of China (8:00) 4-2 (-8, 4, 8, 10, -5, 9) at the Asian Olympic Qualification, Apr. 19-22, with the time between points removed.

The most nonchalant point-winning block ever made

Watch this 28-second video and see Waldner basically stroll over and block a forehand winner against Timo Boll!

Adoni Maropis being silly

Yes, this is Adoni Maropis, the guy who nuked Valencia, California (on "24," season six) and is the reigning National Hardbat Champ. Click on the pictures and you'll see two more of Adoni, and if you keep clicking, you'll find a bunch more, including a number of table tennis action shots.


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Re: April 25, 2012

Often when reading about serving I see comments about using serves that "force a type of return".  Yet when I read articles about receiving serve it says "don't aways hit the same return or to the same place".   There seems to be a conflict.  If serves can be hit that force a particular type return to a particular place how can I be expected to vary the return and the location.

Is it more a percentage thing than a absolute thing or is it absolute for a particular player who does not have varied returns or is there something else I am missing.


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: April 25, 2012

It's more a percentage thing. For example, if I serve short to the forehand with my reverse forehand pendulum serve, it's very likely the ball will be returned to my forehand, especially if I don't overuse the serve. Similarly, if I serve a forehand pendulum serve that breaks right, and deep into my opponent's backhand, and he receives with his backhand, it'll most likely come back to my backhand. Or if I mostly serve side-top, and then serve backspin, it'll most likely be pushed back long, probably crosscourt. (For these example assume all players are righties.) Variation is key, since it keeps the receiver unused to the various serves, and so when faced with one he tends to make the easier return, which is the more predictable one. 

Re: April 25, 2012

Waldner is amazing! As usual.

Though that serve is highly illegal. Speaking of our favorite topic, Larry, I've noticed that recently umpires seem to be trying more to call illegal serves (I mean at levels besides the ITTF Pro Tour), but not on every occurrence, just a few points a match. I personally think that this is a fair way to handle it. An analogy is holding calls in (American) football, if you follow the sport. Holding occurs on virtually every play, but if it was called every time it would just slow the game down way too much and be annoying for the players and fans. Calling it intermittently when it's especially blatant seems like a strong enough deterrent for the cheating side and enough compensation for the other side without pissing off everyone involved.