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Robot Training
Excerpts from Larry Thoman's Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 Player's Instructional Manual

 

SERVES

The robot is also a handy machine to use when practicing serves. Turn the machine off and put all the balls into a shallow tray. Place the tray at your end of the table and practice serving into the robot's net. By using the collection net to catch your serves, you won't have to pick up as many balls from the floor when you're ready to refill your serving tray.

Before beginning to practice serves, let's cover some of the most commonly misunderstood rules concerning the serve.

(1) The ball must be placed in the stationary, flat, open palm of the hand. It must remain behind the end line or its imaginary extension and above the level of the table top. The ball does not; however, have to remain between the two sidelines or their imaginary extensions.

(2) The ball must be thrown near vertically upwards at least 6 inches and then struck as it is descending from the peak of its trajectory.

(3) The ball and the racket must remain above the level of the playing surface from the time the hand is stationary to the time contact is made with the ball.

(4) When the ball is struck it shall be behind the server's end line but not farther back than the part of the server's end line.

(5) The ball must first hit on the server's side of the table, pass directly over or around the net and its supports, then touch the receiver's side of the table.

(6) If the ball touches the net or its supports after having first landed on the server's side of the table and then landing on the receiver's side of the table or touching the receiver's racket without having touched anything else first, the serve is a "let" and is served over. There is no limit to the number of lets one can serve.

(7) Once the ball is tossed up, the ball is in play and the server must serve. If he stops his serve, even if he does not swing at the ball, he loses the point. Likewise, he loses the point if he swings at the ball and does not contact the ball.

It is beyond the intent of this manual to cover all the different kinds of serves. Indeed, a whole book could be written on the many types of serves that are possible. We will divide our discussion into four types of basic serves: the backhand topspin serve, the forehand backspin serve the backhand right sidespin serve, and the left side spin serve. These are serves I found to be the most effective and easily learned.


Photo 17: Starting Position For Backhand ServesStarting Position-Backhand Serves

This is the basic position from which all backhand serves discussed later in this book will start from. Note the ball laying flat in the open palm of the left hand, which is placed about 8-10 inches in front of the stomach. The left forearm is parallel to the ground. The racket is placed directly behind the ball on top of the left wrist.


Lesson 20: Ball Toss

Before beginning to serve, you should practice the ball toss. Place the ball in the open, flat palm of your left hand. Your left forearm should be parallel to the floor, your wrist straight, and the left hand about 8-10 inches in front of the stomach. (See Photo 17.) Now practice tossing the ball up so it stays in line left hand return to its starting position and the ball should fall back down in your palm. Practice until you can do this without missing.

Lesson 21: Backhand Topspin Serve

Once you can consistently toss the ball up straight and have it come right back down into your hand, it's time to learn the backhand topspin serve. Position yourself in a slightly sideways stance facing to your left behind the left comer of the table as shown in Photo 18. Now toss the ball up and after allowing it to begin descending from its peak, push your racket into the ball with your right forearm. Before impact close the racket angle enough to direct the ball down into the table near the left comer on your side. Stop when the tip of the racket is pointing forward. This short stroke can be seen in images 3 & 4 in Photo 18. After you are proficient using this short stroke serve, you may use the entire motion.


Photo 18: Backhand Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)Backhand Topspin Serve(Crosscourt)

Notice the left facing stance, the bend of the the way of the racket coming forward. Stroke is performed mainly by rotating the forearm around the elbow from left to right.

Images 1 & 2 (overlapping): End of backswing.
From the basic starting position (Photo 17), the racket is taken back with the forearm until it barely touches the left upper arm.
Image 3: Just before ball contact. Forearm pushes racket forward and slightly closes the angle. The ball is controlled 6-8 inches above the level of the table.
Image 4: Follow through. Forearm continues forward, rotating at the elbow so the tip of the racket points
Images 5 & 6: End right. Racket finishes at of swing. Forearm continues shoulder height. Notice how to rotate at the elbow causing the upper arm and elbow have the racket tip to point to the remained relatively still.


shown in Photo 18 to increase the speed of the serve by taking a backswing and using a longer follow through.Start slowly, serving the ball crosscourt, and build up your speed. Practice serving to all parts of the table but emphasize a crosscourt serve that travels from your left comer and lands deep in the receiver's left comer. Keep the serve low over the net. To this end, it will help if you contact the ball just above the level of the table. The higher above the table you contact the ball, the higher it will bounce and the less speed you can apply to your serve.

Once you can execute this backhand topspin serve confidently, practice assuming the ready position immediately after you finish your service follow through. In particular, be sure to pull your right leg back around to assume the ready position, instead of remaining in your left facing stance. You want to get into the proper ready position rapidly in order to cover your exposed forehand comer. Make returning to the ready position a part of your service motion. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing.


Start Position-Forehand Serves

Photo 19: Starting Position For Forehand Serves

This is the basic position from which all forehand serves discussed later in this book will start from. Note the ball laying flat in the open palm of the left hand, which is placed about 12 inches in front of the stomach. The left forearm is parallel to the ground. The racket is placed directly behind the ball with the bottom edge lightly touching the side of the left hand.


Lesson 22: Forehand Backspin Serve

The next serve to learn is the forehand backspin serve. Take a sideways stance to the right about two feet in back of the middle of your forehand court. Assume the starting position for a forehand serve as shown in Photo 19. Toss the ball up and at the same time pull the right forearm back and up to about shoulder height. As the ball descends, release the forearm and let the racket slice into the ball about halfway between its center and bottom. Continue to follow through until the racket ends up in front of your left hip. This motion feels very similar to chopping a tree with a hatchet. As a matter of fact, some players refer to this serve as a "chop" serve.

After you get a feel for this serve, work on keeping it low to the net and short, so it bounces twice on the other side of the table. Strive to graze the ball very finely to produce good spin. To increase the amount of spin, add wrist motion to the forearm snap. This serve is seldom done fast and hard; but rather, slowly and well placed. Practice a return to ready position as part of your serve motion. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long and 15 in a row when you serve short (so the ball bounces at least twice on the robot's side of the table).


Photo 20: Forehand Backspin Serve (Crosscourt)

Notice the sideways stance facing to the right, how the weight is mainly Forehand Backspin Serve(Crosscourt)on the right leg and how the upper torso is slightly bent forward with the right shoulder lower than the left shoulder.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket is taken back and up to shoulder level by raising the forearm and pulling it back. Note open racket angle.

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is taken down and forward by snapping the forearm and rotating the shoulders.

Image 3: Just before ball contact. Racket angle has been adjusted slightly.

Image 4: Follow through. Note how rapidly the racket has accelerated from #3. Racket tip is now pointing forward.

Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Racket tip ends up pointing to the left. Shoulder and waist have rotated forward approximately 450. A small weight shift has occurred from the right leg to the left leg. The eyes have followed the ball intently throughout the entire motion.


Photo 21: Backhand Right Sidespin/Backspin Serve (Crosscourt)Backhand Right Side/Backspin Serve

Note how the racket brushes across the ball in a left to right direction. The left to right movement produces right sidespin and the downward movement of the racket at contact produces backspin.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken to the left of the ball by reaching across and above the top of the left arm as the ball is tossed up.
Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is pulled to the right by forearm begins to be release
Image 3: Just after contact. The racket continues to travel down after contact. Arm has straightened significantly.
Image 4: Follow through. Elbow is pulled back hard and the foreatm continues to be straightened.
Images 5 & 6: End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled perform this serve with the racket already to the left of the ball, practice star-ting this serve with the racket behind the ball as shown in Photo 17, and then take a back swing (side swing) as you toss the ball up. Using a back swing will increase the amount of spin you can generate.


Lesson 23: Backhand Right Sidespin Serve

The third serve to learn is the backhand right sidespin serve. This serve will be difficult to learn until you have mastered the two previous serves. Assume the starting position for a backhand serve (Photo 17, page 50) behind the middle of your backhand court. Stand square to the table. Now place your right forearm lightly across your left forearm so the racket is held to the left of the ball.

Toss the ball up, and as it descends, pull your elbow to the right, causing the racket to slash across the back of the ball on its lower surface. Let your shoulders rotate as you pull the elbow to the elbow is pulled back hard and the forearm continues to be straightened.

You need to work on two variations of this serve. A combination sidespin/backspin serve, as shown in Photo 2 1, is produced by keeping the elbow down as you pull it to the right. Combination sidespin/topspin, as shown in Photo 22, is produced by pulling up on the elbow as you pull it to the right. Practice these serves while striving to keep the ball low. Produce maximum sidespin by finely


Photo 22: Backhand Right Sidespin Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)Backhand Right Side/Topspin Serve

This serve is very similar to The previous serve except the racket is pulled up just before contact.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken to the left of the ball by reaching across and above the left arm as the ball is tossed up.
Image 2 (barely visible): Forward swing. Racket is being pulled to the right by the elbow.
Image 3: Just before contact. Forearm has been released slightly.
Image 4: Just after contact. The tip of the racket rotated forward just before contact was made. Then the elbow was pulled sharply upward to apply topspin to the ball. Contact was made on the lower surface of the ball.
lmage5: Follow through. The elbow is still being pulled sharply upward.
lmage6: End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled as high as possible and racket ends up shoulder height or above. Unlike the sidespin/backspin serve, the forearm never gets released all the way. Rather, it remains bent throughout the stroke. The sharp upward movement of the racket puts topspin on the ball; the right to left movement puts right sidespin on it.


grazing across the ball at high speed. Be able to do sidespin/backspin or sidespin/ topspin alternately with equal ease. After being able to serve long and with good spin, work on keeping the serve short, so it will bounce twice on the other side. A much finer graze and touch will be required to do so. When working on the short serve, try to maintain the same amount of spin as when you serve long. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long or 15 in a row when you serve short.

Finally, practice sequences of five different serves. For example, your first serve sharply upward mage6:End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled as high as possible and racket ends up shoulder height or above. Unlike the sidespin/backspin serve, the forearm never gets released all the way. Rather, it remains bent throughout the stroke. The sharp upward movement of the racket puts topspin on the ball; the right to left movement puts right sidespin on it could be a short sidespin/backspin service down-the-line. Your second serve could bc a long sidespin/topspin serve crosscourt. The third serve could be a short sidespin/topspin serve crosscourt. The fourth serve could be along sidespin/ backspin serve down-the-line. And your fifth serve could be a short sidespin/ backspin serve to the middle of the table.

Mixing up your services like this is crucial to having a good service game. You must keep your opponent guessing what serve you will use next. Always vary the spin, speed, and/or placement of the ball from one serve to the next.


Forehand Left Side/Backspin Serve

Photo 23: Forehand Left Sidespin/Backspin Serve (Crosscourt)

Notice the sideways stance to the right and how the weight is shifted to the back leg.

Image 1: End of back swing. The right arm is extended out to the right with the racket tip pointing to the right. Racket is held at shoulder height. Note the modified (looser) grip on the handle.
Image 2: Forward swing, just before contact. Forearm is pushed down towards the ball as the elbow is pulled towards the body. Shoulders and waist are rotated slightly forward.
Image 3:
Follow through. Racket continues to travel down and to the left and the racket tip is rotated forward.


Lesson 24: Forehand Left Sidespin Serve

The last serve to learn is the forehand left sidespin serve. Your stance and position to the table are the same as for the forehand backspin serve (see Photo 19). This time, however, instead of placing the racket directly behind the ball, start with the racket to the right of the ball. It will also help if you hold the racket mainly with your thumb and fore Wrist is snapped downward just before contact.

Images 4-6: End of stroke. Upper arm continues to push the racket to the left and racket tip now points to the left. Shoulders and waist are rotated about 450. The elbow and forearm are snug against the stomach. finger and allow your other three fingers to slip off the handle as shown in Image I of Photo 23. Toss the ball up, and as it descends, pull the right elbow to your side causing the racket to slash across the back of the ball on its lower surface in a sideways direction.

As with the backhand right sidespin service, you may combine topspin or backspin with the forehand left sidespin serve. Photo 23 shows the sidespin


Photo 24: Forehand Left Sidespin Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)Forehand Left Side/Topspin Serve

Similar to the previous serve except racket is pulled upward as contact is made instead of continuing downward.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket is moved to the right of the ball by extending the right arm. Racket tip is pointing to the right.
Image 2: Forward swing. Forearm is pushed down as the forward.
lmage3:Just before contact. Wrist is bent backward. Forearm continues to push racket down towards the ball.
Image4: Follow through. Forearm is pulled up just before contact. Wrist continues to be bent back.
Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Racket is pulled up against the stomach by raising the forearm. Waist and shoulders are rotated only alittle. Racket tip points mainly forward.


backspin serve. Sidespin / topspin, as shown in Photo 24, is produced by pulling the forearm just as contact is made. This may feel a little awkward and cramped when you first do it. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long or 15 in a row when you serve short.

In a real game, the type of serve you use depends on the kind of return you would like to get. If you like to play a fast paced game with quick exchanges, use mainly a fast backhand topspin serve. If you like to smash the ball, use short sidespin/ topspin serves in an attempt to get the opponent to pop up the ball. If you like a slow paced game and/or you have a good push, serve mostly the short forehand backspin serve or short sidespin/backspin serves. Of course, if you discover a serve that the opponent has trouble with, use that serve more often, but not so much that the opponent gets used to it.

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