I am having real trouble receiving serves. I struggle to work out what spin has been imparted on the ball.
I struggle a lot with the punch serve, or hook serve, where the bat comes almost horizontally across the ball. The contact is so quick that I struggle to put the ball back on the table. I recently asked a question about pimples on the backhand, which may help me with this. I know short pimples will not totally soak up all the spin, but it may mean that the spin is not as brutal as it hits the bat.
I know what to look for in a service to tell what spin the serve has, but the contact is so quick that I find it hard to really tell. I was told by a friend to read the serve by what the ball does on the table. If it kicks, it topspin, if it holds up, its backspin? That is still easier said than done though, and reading spin off the table leaves you less time to get in position to play the right shot!
Any hints for helping me work out what spin is on the ball?
This is a really common problem. Receiving serves is the hardest part of the game. It is really a lot to do with the amount of times you have seen the serve and played against it.
If you understand the basics then it is a mater of experiencing it more. If you can read other types of serves then it is definitely the case. I find the Reverse Pendulum serve more difficult than other serves because I never played against it competitively.
Find someone with good serves and get them to play a lot of games with you or just do serve and receiving practice if you can.