Coach Forum

Robot Training

HOW TO EFFECTIVELY RETURN SHORT SERVICES

By Richard McAfee, USATT International Coach

 

 

The Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 is the perfect practice partner for learning how to effectively return any serve. In today’s game, the majority of serves are short to middle in depth with a long serve thrown in mainly as a surprise tactic. With this in mind, this article will focus on how to return short serves effectively.

Practice Goals

Your primary goal should not be limited to just returning the serve. Serve and serve return is a battle for control of the point. Players who return short serves well use a mix of return techniques to keep their opponents off balance. These techniques include the short drop, the deep push, and the flip.

Setting up the Robo-Pong 2000 for practice

  1. Turn the head to the Backspin Position.
  2. Point the head straight down so the ball bounces on the side of the Robo-Pong 2000 first.
  3. Turn the speed setting to 2.
  4. Set the oscillation and ball frequency controls to the desired setting.

Basic Technique and Practice Concepts

  • Focus on the movements of the wrist and elbow joints.
  • Move to the ball. This often requires moving a foot well underneath the table.
  • Do not extend (straighten) the arm when reaching for the ball.
  • Practice without ball oscillation until you can control the stroke. Use ball oscillation when basic control has been achieved.
  • When control over short serves is achieved, then slightly increase the ball speed settings and practice against middle depth serves.

Short Drop Technique

  1. Contact the ball while it is rising.
  2. Contact the middle of the ball.
  3. Make friction (spin) contact with ball.
  4. Racket (wrist) motion is downward.
  5. Practice making short drops to all areas of the table.

Deep Push Technique

  1. Contact the ball at the top of the bounce.
  2. Contact the ball below center.
  3. Make friction (spin) contact with the ball.
  4. Racket (wrist) motion is forward and down.
  5. Placement locations include both corners and to your opponent’s playing elbow.

Flip Technique

  1. Contact the ball at the top of the bounce.
  2. Contact the ball below center (open racket)
  3. Make friction (spin) contact with the ball.
  4. Racket (wrist) motion is up and forward.
  5. Try to cut your opponent’s sidelines with your returns.

Controlling Side-spin Serves

Once you have control over simple backspin serves, try turning the head to add sidespin to the backspin serves. Depending on how you adjust the head, both right to left and left to right sidespin-backspin serves can be produced.

The secret to controlling sidespin is to contact the correct spot on the ball that will stop the ball from spinning. By now you have already found out that touching the ball below center stops the backspin rotation of the ball. The same holds true for the added sidespin. Touch the ball on the correct side and you will stop the sidespin rotation of the ball. Touch the ball below center and on the correct side and you will stop both the backspin and the sidespin on the ball. This sounds complicated, but is very simple once you practice the technique a few times.

Try this experiment. Set the Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 to deliver a short backspin-sidespin serve. Try touching first one side, then the other of the ball. You will see that on one side the spin will rotate into your racket. The ball will feel heavy on your racket and jump off to the side. When the correct side is touched, the ball will not jump off your racket but return on a straight line. This occurs because the rotation of the ball has been stopped.

To utilize this technique in a match situation, carefully watch where your opponent’s racket touches the ball while serving. Try to touch the ball in the same location your opponent’s racket did. In this way, you become the mirror image of your opponent. This applies pressure against the oncoming spin and neutralizes the spin. Once you touch the correct spot on the ball any of the above return techniques can be used.

The serve return is often the most neglected part of the average player’s game. With the Robo-Pong 2000, you have an opponent who can produce any type of serve and never gets tired of serving to you. Remember that the serve and the serve return are your first opportunities to control each point. Your ability to learn these skills will have a major impact on the level of play you will be able to achieve.

Good luck and many happy serve returns.