By Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer and Certified National Coach
Want to twist your opponent into a pretzel? You can do so with one of the most common serving combos in table tennis: short serves to the forehand and long, breaking serves to the backhand.
Short serves to the forehand are usually more awkward to handle than short ones to the backhand. This is because the wrist is freer on the backhand side to adjust the racket angle, and also because contact is made in front of you, right in front of your eyes, instead of to the side with a forehand receive. Long serves to the backhand are usually trickier to handle than long ones to the forehand. This is because most players loop better on the forehand side, and because you have a bigger hitting zone on that side than on the backhand side, where a breaking serve can be awkward to handle.
Serving short to the forehand or long to the backhand also maximizes the amount of table the receiver has to cover. Suppose you serve very short and wide to the forehand, so the receiver has to contact the ball one foot from the net near the sideline. Suppose you serve long to the backhand, so the receiver contacts the ball about a foot past the end-line behind the backhand corner. Then the distance between these two contact points is about 6.7 feet. (The same is true, of course, if you serve short to the backhand or long to the forehand.) If you instead serve short and long to the forehand (or to the backhand), then the distance is about five feet. That’s over 20 inches of extra movement for the receiver. It’s even more if you serve wide to the backhand, and perhaps break it even wider with sidespin, so the receiver has to take the ball from outside the backhand corner. The contact points between a short serve to the forehand and a deep breaking serve to the wide backhand can be seven feet apart.
So why not combine these two into a deadly duo?
You can do this with forehand or backhand serves. (It’s usually a bit more effective with a forehand pendulum serve, which allows you to break the deep serve to the backhand away from the receiver. However, a backhand serve type sidespin allows you to actually break the short serve a bit away from the receiver, though not as much since has less travel time.) Make sure to start out the same, with the same motion until just before contact. Then either serve very low and short to the forehand, or a long, breaking serve into the backhand.
Short serves are often best where the second bounce on the far side of the table, if allowed, would be near the end-line. However, in this case, it’s better to serve very short to maximize how much distance the receiver has to reach to get to the serve. Make him cover the full seven feet.
The receiver also has to prepare for the deep serve into the backhand. By making it break, it makes the receiver reach even more. (This is especially true if you can break it away from the receiver, such as a forehand pendulum serve if both players are righties.) It’s often effective to focus on deep spin serves, but not too fast. A fast serve to the backhand can often be more easily backhand countered, using your own speed against you.
So the receiver has to be ready both for the quick step in to reach the short serve to the forehand, while also covering that deep, breaking serve into the backhand. This is not an easy task, and leads to many mistakes. On top of that, it also makes it almost impossible for a receiver to forehand loop the serve from the backhand side.
So twist your opponent into a pretzel as he tries to cover these two diagonally opposed serves that the human body was never designed for. Make him cover the full seven feet as you turn him into a cooked pretzel . . . and break him.