Advanced Training

Two Surprisingly Easy Ways To Receive Difficult Serves
Posted by Jackson Meyn on March 27, 2014.

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Receiving serve is a tricky business for every player, because your opponent has complete control of the ball to start the point. In addition to this, advanced players have put a lot of work into their service game and have mastered the art of producing many different serves from very similar looking actions. Also, many players still hide their serve in some way that is not picked up by umpires, or in the case of lower level leagues, the service rules are hardly enforced at all. Although, you should have no doubt you can still win against a player who is serving illegally, as Timo Boll shows in this match:

Video source: TTPoster

So I'll take this opportunity to look at some different yet effective ways you can receive serve, and the advantages of each.

Equator vs Axis contact

Common advice for receiving serve is to contact the ball on the same spot where you saw the server contact the ball, essentially contacting the ball's equator. The problems with this methodology are:

- You can become confused if the server contacts the back half of the ball, which you won't be able to touch as the receiver;
- You'll be contacting the ball where the spin is strongest, meaning you'll make a lot of mistakes if you misread the spin even slightly, and;
- This advice assumes that you actually saw where the server contacted the ball. If they have a complicated action with fake follow-through this will be difficult. As already mentioned, if they have an illegal action which hides the ball this will be impossible.

A better solution especially for an attacking receive, is to use the axis principal, as detailed in this article about the 'Chiquita' receive.

To summarise, the axis of the ball is where the spin is weakest, and so, with the 'Chiquita', you'll be able to attack even heavy backspin serves with less errors, or come to understand that the best way to receive sidespin serves is to attack it with a standard flick or loop stroke.

This diagram shows the axis of a backspin ball on the sides of the ball. This is what makes a 'Chiquita' a good option for attacking backspin serves, as it contacts the ball on the side. Photo source: March 2013 edition of World TT magazine.

This diagram shows the axis of a sidespin ball running through the top and bottom of the ball. This is what makes a flick or topspin stroke the best option for a sidespin serve, as it contacts the top of the ball. Photo source: March 2013 edition of World TT magazine.

The slow, heavy push

This article explains why the slow, heavy push is better than the short push for receiving serve.

An added benefit not mentioned by the article is that the slow, heavy push is better if your opponent is serving with varying amounts of backspin, and you can't read how much is on any particular serve. Even though it surely will be attacked by most players, you'll make less mistakes with the receive, and the added backspin means that it will have to be attacked with a slower loop, which you can then counterattack.

To summarise:

Against a short backspin serve:

- use the Chiquita receive to attack, or;
- If you prefer to push, and are having trouble judging the amount of backspin, use the slow, heavy push

Against a short topspin or short sidespin serves:

The flick used against a sidespin serve takes advantage of axis contact mentioned earlier to minimise the effect of the opponent's spin.

Against long serves:

Once you understand the optimal receive stroke for different types of spin, the biggest challenge you'll face will be the opponent who can serve both short or fast and long. Against such an opponent, you have to adapt your service stance so that you can have a reasonable chance of playing effective strokes to both lengths of serve.

Assuming that you attempt to attack any long serve (which you should be doing), one tip that can help you with this is to keep the racket angle close to your swing angle when receiving long serves. Why? The long serve is already fast, you don't need to add any additional speed to it, which is what would happen if there was a difference bigger between your racket angle and swing angle. Instead, simply use your opponent's speed and add extra spin with a fast, silent, brushing motion.

When the racket angle is too different from the swing angle, you'll add too much speed to the ball and will make more mistakes when receiving long serves

When the racket angle is closer to the swing angle you'll add more spin and thus have more control in your receive of long serves. Receiving long serves this way helps even more because it allows you to receive a long serve early off the bounce, meaning you can stay closer to the table for the occasions when you opponent serves short.

To illustrate just how close a top level player can be to the table to receive serve, check out Timo Boll's receive stance. I sincerely doubt anyone would be able to exploit Boll's close-to-the-table receive stance by serving long.

Photo Source: Screenshot of janus770 Youtube video

A note about speed

Of course, against both long or short serves, if you aren't having any trouble reading the type or amount of spin on your opponent's serve, you can increase the difference between your racket angle and swing angle and in doing so add more speed than spin to your attacking receives. This article focused more upon receive options where you aren't sure about the spin on your opponent's serve, and can instead make a safe, consistent receive which gets you into the rally and hopefully winning some points off your opponent's good serves.