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How to return serves in table tennis?

how to retuen serves in table tennis

Why receiving serves is important?

We all know that the serves are important in table tennis matches and many professional players like Ma long or Ma lin practice serving skills for several hours after their daily training. But the truth is that the returning serves is as important as serves it self and sometimes even more important.

This is because if we don’t serve very well, we can make up for it with other techniques like our forehand or backhand; but if we don’t know how to return serves in table tennis well, we will be in a passive situation in the match, or even lose points outright.

Especially in some critical moments such as 8-8, 9-9 or 10-10, every point is crucial, both in terms of serving and receiving. So this blog we will focus on how to deal with different kinds of serves in table tennis.

how to retuen serves in table tennis

What is the core of returning serves?

The most important and core part of receiving a serve is to tell the different kinds of spin. In order to judge the kinds and the strength of the spin and where the ball is going to land, a variety of information should be used to make a comprehensive analysis.

In our previous blogs about the serves we have introduced the current rules issued by ITTF about the serves. The main one is that the serves can be clearly observed by the opponent. So what should we notice in the match?

1. Focus on the stance of your opponent when he is about to serve. If the opponent is going to serve from the forehand position, there is a greater chance that the ball will be served to our forehand side. So we should prepare it well.

2. Focus on the moment that the racket hit the ball and tell the spin. This is the most important point when it comes to service return. If it hits the lower part of the ball, then it is likely to be a backspin; if it hits the side of the ball, then it may be a side spin.

how to retuen serves in table tennis

Don’t be confused by your opponents in the process of leading the racket, just keep an eye on the moment the racket hit the ball and you will be able to tell the spin.

3. Focus on the strength of your opponents when serving the ball to judge the length of the ball and the strength of the spin. If the ball is hit with great force, the spin will be strong as well as heavy spin ball and the ball may be long and rapid; however, if the ball is hit with weak force, the ball will probably land in net zone.

4. Judge the length of the incoming ball by the first bounce point. If the ball first bounces far away from the net, it is likely to be a long ball; if it lands closer to the net, it is likely to be a short ball.

5. Observe the opponent’s rubber before the match, including the type and brand. Especially if your opponent uses long pips or short pips, make sure that you have to look carefully what kind of rubber your opponent is using when he serves.

Because the spin is totally different when someone serves with an inverted rubber and long pips rubber, even with the same movement. Otherwise, you will definitely make a lot of mistakes and even lose the match in several minutes.

How to receive different types of serves?

Here we list some common serves in the match and you could just make a reference.

1、 When you receive topspin, attack the ball with your forehand and backhand or just push the ball back. Notice that lean forward your racket and hit the upper or middle of the ball. Then hit it forward. Yeah, this is not so difficult.

2、 When you receive some heavy backspin, if the serve is short, you can just push it back with a touch or a dig. It depends on whether you want to return it back long or short.

But if you want to attack, you can also do a flick using your wrist. However, if it is long serve, you can directly attack back with a loop. Actually, for some beginners, it is a headache problem to receive backspin serves. It’s a basic skill and needs lots of practice.

how to retuen serves in table tennis

3, When you receive the left side topspin or backspin, you can attack the ball with a loop and return it with a dig. The difference is that if you attack with a loop the returning ball will be topspin whereas it would be backspin if you return it with a dig.

What’s more, you should also lean the surface of your racket slightly forward (back) and slightly to the left, and hit the ball on the right side of the upper (lower) part, in order to offset the left side of the incoming spin.

It is important to note here that the angle of inclination of the racket must be opposite to the rotation of the ball itself, so as to counteract its spin.

4、 Likewise, when you receive the right side topspin or backspin ball, you could attack the ball or just push it back in the same way. But this time, the racket should be leaned slightly forward (backward) and to the right, hitting the ball on the left side of the upper (lower) part.

5, When you receive some balls in the net zone, you could just cut down it and return it back. This is the safest choice. But if you have sufficient confidence, you can just attack it with a flick by using your wrist. Anyway, it has some risks and requires lots of practice.

6、 When you cannot tell if the incoming ball is topspin or backspin, the best choice is just to push it back slightly but pay attention to the position. It is important not to leave the opponent any opportunity to attack back directly.

7. When you receive balls served with long pips or short pips, they are basically without many effects or spins. So just drive it back or loop it so as to generate topspin balls.

Two common mistakes must be avoided.

Common mistake 1: Some players don’t pay much attention when the opponent’s racket hits the ball, and misjudge the ball’s spin and speed, resulting in losing the game.

Common mistake 2: Some players also are too impatient to wait for the ball to bounce on the table and blindly hit the ball, which seems to be a “quick shot”. But in fact, it is a “quick shot” without any quality. It is reasonable to look at the ball clearly and take a very short ‘pause’ before hitting the ball.

how to retuen serves in table tennis


Once you have understood some basic theories of serving and service return, it is important to combine it with practice. In addition, it’s also important to accumulate a lot of experience in the game and be familiar with the best way to handle different serves.

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