DEVELOPING YOUR SERVE GAME
By Richard McAfee, USATT International Coach
If you have access to a Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 and Pong-Master you have the perfect tools to help you practice your serve game. These tools go far beyond simply using the Newgy’s collection net to catch the balls while practicing serves. Here are some of the techniques that I use with my students.
SERVE PRACTICE TECHNIQUES
Learn only a few service motions but be able to produce many look-a-like variations. Practice contacting different parts of the ball to produce different spins, while using the same service delivery. For best results, video-tape your service motions. Look to see if your motion "gives away" the type of serve you are using. Remember you must be able to serve to any part of the table with the identical motion. The accuracy of your service is very important. In today’s game the most common serves are those short and to the middle of the table. The long serve must be fast and directed deep into the corners or at the opponent’s playing elbow.
The Newgy Pong-Master is a great tool to use in developing an accurate serve. You will need to turn off the ball feed of the Robo-Pong 2000 and use the Pong-Master by itself. I use the middle and small size sensor targets for this practice. Place the targets in the desired landing spots for your serve and compete against the Pong-Master to reach twenty-one points first. I find this a fun and challenging way to motivate my students to work on their serve placement.
Practice serving above your level. This is the key mistake that many people make when practicing serves. They simply practice the same old "safe" serve; and wonder when it will become a 2800 level serve. It never will. You have to consistently push yourself to make more spin and a better placement. If you are practicing serves correctly, pushing yourself, you will miss a fair number outright.
FOLLOW YOUR SERVE WITH ATTACK
Practice your serve as part of the attacking sequence. Remember, your attack is only as strong as its weakest link. The serve and the following third ball attack are totally reliant upon each other. The threat of a strong third ball attack makes the serve return more difficult for your opponent. Thus the serve becomes even more effective.
You can practice third ball attack sequences on the Robo-Pong 2000 by the following method. First set the Robo-Pong 2000 to produce the type of return you want to practice against. Next, keep a bucket of balls close at hand to serve with and turn down the ball frequency to the number 2 or 3 setting. With some experimentation and practice, you should be able to find the setting that allows you to serve and then receive the next ball from the Robot in a natural timing. For the best results, set the Robo-Pong 2000 to oscillate the whole table. This will create the most game-like training experience.
(Editor’s note: If you use the above tip, it will be beneficial to have a self-standing ball tray to hold the balls you will serve with. Putting the ball tray on the table [like you would normally do for serve practice] might interfere with the ball coming from the robot that you are going to attack. The Robo-Caddy functions not only as a rolling robot holder for away from the table shots but also as movable, self-standing, height-adjustable ball tray for serve or multi-ball practice. The Robo-Caddy would be ideal for the above drill. To order your Robo-Caddy, call Newgy at 1-800-55-NEWGY.)
(Editor’s Second Note: When doing the above drill, it would be smart to have the robot deliver the type of return that you would normally expect from your serve. For instance, if your serve is a heavy, short underspin, set the robot to deliver a short to medium, slow, underspin return. If you expect your serve to produce a high pop-up, then set your robot for a slow, high topspin return. Once you are consistent at attacking the most common type of return off your serve, then have your robot deliver more difficult returns to build up your third-ball attacking skills.)
Finally, learn to love serving. Great servers really enjoy the creativity of developing their own unique style. If you don’t enjoy serving, then you simply will not practice enough. Speaking of practice, the best time to practice serving is during the beginning or middle of your training session. Serve practice requires a lot of mental energy. Don’t wait until the end of practice, when you are tired, to work on your serves.
Serve practice benefits far more than just your serve game. The serve requires a high degree of development of your fine hand motor skills. These skills carry over into every other stroke. As your serve game improves you will fine your ball control skills and ability to produce heavy spin will also greatly improve.
Remember, great servers are not born, they practiced!!!
- Jena Newgarden