|The advantage of a strong serve|
A good service can essentially force one of three things which can initiate a big advantage in matchplay:
- A forced error
- A psychological advantage
- A predictable response
Let's start with the first point forced errors. A strong service game can award a player what you could consider to be 'free or easy points' in a match. If a player struggles to receive serve or read the spin on the serve then you can, at times, win points outright from the service. Good service variation and deception are key in being able to take advantage of this. If the other player can't read the spin or recognise the correct response to the serve then at times they will not be able to return the serve. This is an easy point.
Having a good serve can also create a psychological advantage. If a player is weak on their service return then all of a sudden all of the pressure goes to their serve. Since half the serves are from each player in a match, it is necessary for a player to try and maintain a good scoring advantage on their service game.
If you can execute well in your service game, then the pressure all turns to your opponent to be able to win points from their serve in order to stay in the game. This added pressure can sometimes cause serves to drift half long or be faulted by the opposition. Having a reliable receive can also add a lot of pressure in this situation.
Finally a predictable response can be created by a good server. I wrote about set plays in this blog on table tennis master. If you can manipulate the spin and direction of your serve to make the majority of responses difficult then it adds more risk to making those returns. In the snap moment of decision making this can lead your opponent to take the response with the least associated risk and that can create a higher probability of a certain return. A good example is a side under serve, short towards the side of the table. Two bounces means looping is not a possible response. With enough backspin flicking is a difficult response and if the sidespin is adequate then being able to return short can be hard to control. This means that if the service is executed correctly then the easiest return is a long push.
If the direction and spin of the serve are correct it can also make the ball more difficult to return down the line which means you can expect a return back somewhere in your backhand half. This is an example in a perfect situation where a predictable response can be created using a serve. If you can set your point up this way then you are much more likely to win the point by planning your follow up.
Ma Lin was infamous for his service and often utilised serves which would force a return to his backhand side where his pivot forehand was ready to destroy his opponents. His ability to create a predictable response was perfect for increasing his preparation speed which is vital for a penhold player who is forehand dominant.
With these 3 key reasons, how can you not focus on improving your service? Most coaches would recommend 30 minutes of service practice each day in order to develop a solid and reliable serve. So what are you waiting for?! :)