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Many players who use robots forget to take advantage of one of the robot’s most valuable parts: the net that catches the ball. This is invaluable for service practice.
Turn off the robot, get a box of balls, and prepare for service practice! (Some players prefer to keep the robot on, with a slow feed, so that the robot feeds you a ball every 7-10 seconds or so to serve.)
Never serve robotically - let the robot do that! When practicing serves, visualize the serve in your mind before doing the serve. You should see the racket contact the ball, and the ball hit both sides of the table - before you even start the service motion. It’s called "visualization," and is used by top athletes in all sports.
As you get more advanced, sometimes visualize opponents and their returns. You may then serve a ball, and shadow-practice a rally against selected opponents, without the ball. Just don’t do this in public, or you might get locked up!
The goal here is to learn the basic forehand and backhand topspin and backspin serves, and to learn some sidespin serves. There are many possibilities — watch any intermediate or advanced player, and you’ll see examples. One key point that many beginners have trouble with is that to serve sidespin, you must start with the racket to the side of the ball, and strike the ball with a sideways grazing motion. If you start with the racket directly behind the ball, you won’t get much sidespin. Learn at least one sidespin serve with the racket going from left to right, and at least one with the racket going from right to left. (See the article Serves in our Coaching archives for some pictures of these type of serves.)
The goal here is to put spin on the ball. Not just some spin — a LOT of spin. Table Tennis is a game of spin, and it begins with the serve.
To make a ball spin very fast, your racket (and therefore your hand) must move very fast. You can’t do this with a wimpy motion. Serving has been called a violent motion, and good servers sweat when practicing their serves.
Most spin comes from the wrist, and from a fine grazing motion. If you snap your wrist just before contact, so the racket moves very fast and just grazes the ball, most of your wrist snap will become spin. The tip of the racket is the fastest-moving part of the racket, so that’s where your contact should be.
Forget trying to serve on the table. Just make the ball spin out of orbit, with as much spin as possible. After you’re able to get lots of spin on the ball, then it’s time to make the ball hit the table. Make adjustments so the serve hits, but do not let up on the spin.
The goal here is deception. You already are putting lots of spin on the ball, but you’ve noticed that top players are having no trouble reading your spin. (If you didn’t have so much spin on the ball, of course, they’d be killing your serve!)
Most service deception comes from a semi-circular motion. If the racket goes through a semi-ciruclar motion, it can create backspin, sidespin or topspin (or combinations of these) simply by varying the contact point. For example, if you use a serve motion where the racket starts out high, and goes downward, sideways and then up, you’d get backspin if you contact the ball on the way down; sidespin if you contact the ball as it moves sideways; and topspin if you contact the ball on the way up.
You can also fool an opponent by faking spin, and serving no-spin. This is done by just patting the ball, and then exaggerating the follow-through, or by contacting the ball at the base of the racket, which travels slower than the tip of the racket.
By learning a serve motion with a semi-circular motion, and doing it very quickly, you’ll be able to fool many opponents with your serve, take control of the rally, and win most of the points.