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USATT Coaches Corner: The Backhand Serve

By Qingliang Wang | Jan. 28, 2021, 8:30 p.m. (ET)

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The Backhand Serve

If you watch ten tables at a tournament or training session, most likely on seven or eight tables or more they'll only be using forehand serves. Even those who know how to do serve backhand rarely do so, preferring forehand serves instead. In fact, the backhand serve is a highly effective serve, especially for setting up your attack. Let's go over the benefits of the backhand serve and how to develop it.

Benefits

  1. Since backhand serves have the reverse spin of regular forehand serves, opponents aren't as used to them, and so it makes it more difficult for them to drop short. So receivers mostly return them long, which likely sets up your attack.
  2. Compared to normal forehand serves, which require you to change where you stand after the serve to get ready for the next ball, backhand serves allow you to get ready more quickly, since you are already standing about where you want to be for a ready position.
  3. It is very easy to learn the backhand serve. All you need are to follow the steps below.

How to Do a Backhand Serve 

  1. Side-Under vs. Side-Top 
    Because of the natural motion of a backhand serve, which is side to side, most of them are sidespin. Creating side-underspin or side-topspin can be difficult if players do not have the correct paddle angle - but with practice, it is quite easy. When serving side-under, make sure the paddle stays mostly parallel to the floor and contact is near the bottom of the ball. For side-top, the paddle angle should be more sideways, and at contact, make sure to spin the middle of the ball near the back, with a side-and-up motion.
  2. Standing Position 
    As I mentioned earlier, the standing position for the backhand serve is similar to the ready position, with some minor adjustments. When serving with backhand, you should stand parallel to the table with the right leg slightly in front (left leg for lefty). This will make it easier to use the body during the serve. Most players like to serve from the backhand side (to favor the forehand) and some like to serve from the forehand side (to favor the backhand or both sides equally). Both are fine if it fits your game. 
  3. Contact Point
    What you do at the contact point makes a big difference. First,  you should snap your wrist just before contact as you accelerate the racket into the ball. This gives maximum racket speed and therefore maximum spin. Second, focus on grazing the ball. The more you graze it, the more spin. Third, grazing motion is also a major part of how you control the depth. The finer you contact the ball, the less forward motion the ball has, and so the easier it is to serve short (thereby stopping opponents from looping). Many players try serving short by easing up on the swing, and so they get far less spin. To serve deep, sink the ball a bit more into the sponge, but still catapult it out with great spin.
  4. Higher Throw
    Some players ask how high they should toss the ball for backhand serves, high or low. I would choose higher. This means the ball will be dropping faster at contact, and you can use that to create more spin and speed. (However, many players prefer a lower toss because it is easier to control.) With a higher toss, it's especially important to contact the ball as low as possible so the serve doesn't bounce high.

 As you learn about the benefits of the backhand serve and how to develop it, I hope you will start to realize its importance. Hopefully, this article can help you to develop one.

Qingliang Wang

USATT National Coach Development Team, two-time USATT Developmental Coach of the Year, and 2020 USATT Doc Counsilman Coach of the Year

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