All coaches and top players will tell you the importance of serving short, but in this post we are going to challenge that belief and delve a bit deeper into your optimal match tactics.
Firstly, let’s take a look at some of the skills the top players have that makes serving short vital, for them.
1. They can attack almost any return
This comes from vast experience; so that they know all the possible returns of their service, and high level physical training; so they have the strength and flexibility to reach all of those positions and attack strongly from them. Can you attack backspin returns with at least an 80% success rate when they are placed randomly in training?
2. They have a strong short game
As a backup plan, just in case they come up against an opponent with a good short receive, they can simply play the third ball short again and wait for an opportunity to attack on the next ball. Can you recover to a good ready position for attacking after serving, but still be ready to get in for a short return?
3. They can attack almost any long serve
All of the best players can attack a serve that even drifts slightly long, which makes serving short vital for any player whose strategy revolves around making the first attack. This is what you should consider when deciding if a short serve is right against any particular opponent. Can your opponent strongly attack any serve of yours that is not short?
Should you serve short?
If you answered "no" to either of the questions in points one or two, mostly short serving is probably not right for you at this stage of your development.
If you answered "no" to the question in point three, long serves may be better against that specific opponent, even if you answered "yes" to point one and two.
Additionally, when you serve short, the ball may come back either short or long. But when you serve long, the ball will rarely come back short. Knowing this allows you to more confidently choose your distance from the table after serving long.
This is doubly effective if blocking or counterattacking are already strengths of your game.
This tip is largely for beginner and intermediate level players who feel they have an edge over a certain opponent during hitting or topspin rallies, but may have trouble reaching that point after serving a short service.
However, that’s not to say it can't be used at the international level!
He Zhiwen of Spain - who is currently world number 80 but has been as high as number 24 - is an example of a top player that not only serves long occasionally, but even does it most of the time.
Here’s some of his best work...
I hope this article has shown you when and why long serves can be more useful than short, but also created a framework in your mind to think about the occasions where the conventional plays used by the top players may not suit your game or phase of development.
Keep practising your short serves and third ball consistency, though. Eventually you will be a top player yourself and you will need them, even if only occasionally, to beat the other top players!
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by Jackson Meyn