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Top 5 Tips To Return Impossible Table Tennis Serves

How do I return a pro table tennis serve?

How difficult it is to return the pro’s table tennis serve, if you are a beginner in table tennis.
Yes, it’s very hard to return the serve from the professional player. It’s very spinning.

Here you can see that an amateur table tennis player has a very hard time returning the serve of Timo Boll. It’s very spinning. With the same gesture, the ball can go up, or can go right.

If you are a new player, it’s very hard to distinguish the type of the spin on the ball. Read this tutorial to learn how to return the pro table tennis serve correctly.

Here I will give the quick tips to return impossible table tennis serves

01 Be Relaxed

You need to touch the serve softly, and relax. Some amateur players are too tense, so the contact point is too hard. So you will “eat” the spin.

The more you are relaxed, the less spin that you will eat.

to be relax to return with the serve
to be relax to return with the serve

It can be hard to return a serve because you don’t know what will happen. So stay calm and keep things simple.

02 Attack every long serve

The Chinese coach always says, “attack every long serve”. If the serve is long, it will jump out of the table, then you will attack it. No matter what type of spin on the serve.

attack every long serve
attack every long serve


Watch the full tutorial here:

5 tips to return the impossible table tennis serves

Watch this video.


03 Topspin is the best serve return

Topspin is the easiest way to return any serve. Topspin strokes are safe, effective, and give you more control over the rally. Some amateur players just push, push and push. No!

topspin is the key
topspin is the key

If you want to improve, then topspin every serve. If it is short, then use the flick technique. If the serve is long, then use the topspin technique.

04 Keep the balance

You need to keep your balance to return the good serve. Learn the right footwork, and learn the correct steady stance. When playing table tennis, you need to be able to move your feet in many different directions.

keep the balance
keep the balance

It’s important to have good footwork for balance and speed. You can only improve your footwork by doing the right steps over and over again.

returning the difficult table tennis serve
returning the difficult table tennis serve

05 Be smart

Be clever and sneaky. Try different types of return: flick, topspin, sidespin, chop block, drop short, soft touch, etc.

change the placement of the return
change the placement of the return

Use the right stroke at the right moment. It would be best if you had a plan, used that plan all the time, and learned from your mistakes.

Additional tips from players

Here are some additional tips provided from players (Canice Tang)

Excellent tips. The last one is the best. On top of that. If anyone wants to improve, then have someone video your game and especially specialized on the game part. You can focus on JUST the ‘serve’ and ‘serve return’ part. Separate your serves and serve return. For each point with your opponent’s serve, ask yourself this:

1. What kind of serve did I expect my opponent made? “What can I tell what his/her pattern of toss, gesture, motion of their paddle hand”, specifically with the moment of the contact of the ball?

2. Was I anticipated correctly? As to the right spins, location, speed, bounce and the cadence in terms of momentum? Did I have the proper preparation of the right footwork? Have I done even to cover the table to have more than enough time to place my paddle on the ball at the right height of the bounce?

3. Have I done enough with reading the spin and adjust my timing, paddle angle and the right amount of speed and energy into my return?

4. Did I made an excellent, good, decent or poor return from my question 1 to 3? And how the quality of my first return, or lacked thereof, affect the outcome of the point itself?

5. Was my return quality good enough to immediately gain an upper-hand, neutralized it at a 50-50 ball where my opponent has to push return for his/her no gain, or they took immediate advantage because of my poor initial return.

When you made a spreadsheet or a tabulation over this. Table Tennis is such as fine margin sport where you must keep your serves and stealing one or both points from your opponents’ serve. The better percentages you can have on your serve returns, the better you are at winning the set, and the accumulation of sets for the match.

Especially say on a very crucial or pivotal set where you are tied 7-7, and your opponent serves the next two points. Then automatically you should be completely focused on all aspects of every point.

A. If you can return really well and take the next two points from your opponent. Immediately, you are 9-7 up and serving the next two points for the set or match. A huge momentum swing for you and concern for your opponent.

B. Supposed you got one out of two and now the score is 8-8. You are still in charge of the match if you can stay calm and serve out your points to be ahead 10-8. Even though your opponent would once again have the serve. But serving down 8-10, rather than at 9-9, or even your opponent taking your two serves away leading 10-8. The mental stage for both you and your opponent would be so much different when you are ahead or behind. That is huge.

C. If you did poorly on your serve return and now down 7-9. Unless you have a timeout remaining that you haven’t use. I strongly suggested you to use it right away to talk to your coach, or just calm down to refocus on what you need to do on your serves in the next two points. You need both points to push back to 9-9 and not even afford to lose a single point to make it 8-10 to your opponent’s favour, now with two serves needing just one of two to win.

What the coach said in the 5 tips were crucial. However, the mental aspect of you to return your serve with quality becomes much more urgent. This is how even in a professional match where both players are close. Serve return abilities both great or poor, would be the deciding outcome almost every single time.

What is Ma Long’s serve at the critical moments?

How about the 2017 World Table Tennis Championship Men’s Final between Ma Long and Fan Zhendong? The total points difference between the two was only 4 points for Ma Long after 7 maximum sets. Remembered what the Coach said about the fast long serve? You attack them often with the topspin? Well, as you can see. The returner (both Ma and Fan) was able to use quality return in push, flicks and other tactics to win gain the upper-hand and winning the point outright on subsequent rallies. In fact, the nervousness from both players at the serves and the excellent quality of the serve returns in both. Kept the score even at 9-9 with Ma serving the next two points. Finally Ma kept his first serve and first in 5 tries to be up 10-9.

In the final and deciding 7th Set, especially when Fan was down under tremendous duress 9-10 at Ma’s last serve to push into deuce, it was his calmness to unleash his killer backhand flick which got it done. Ma was immediately pushed to a defensive stance and Fan pounded three deadly shots, and the last on Ma’s open forehand side to chase Captain Dragon completely out of position.

Then at 10-10, Ma’s careful placement of half-long underspin push return fooled Fan for an unforced error long. Finally, Ma got this serve and was FULLY PREPARED for what happened two points ago when Fan did that wicked backhand flick. If you look carefully, before Fan even executed his deadly flick, Ma knew EXACTLY THAT it would be at his backhand corner so he pivoted his feet very early, with the much wider stance to give him the time and space. Then unleashed his power with the pace of Fan’s topspin to drill the ball down the forehand side – an extremely low percentage shot, but was perfect on the timing, paddle stroke, height of the flight and the power. The ball was literally on a rope and painted the line for the title.

As the exciting Adam Bobrow said, “Ma Long pulled a Fan Zhendong out of Fan Zhendong!!!” How true that was! But there were a lot of tactics and preparations behind each and everyone of their shot plus their rationale for shot selection.

I hope such detailed analysis will give an average fan or player of the depths in their mental game and focus on each part of the table tennis game. Thank You.

Here’s was that exciting match:

2017 World Championships | Highlights MA Long vs. FAN Zhendong (Final)

Watch this video.


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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

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