What is the most effective way to return a serve that has side spin on it?

Table Tennis Service Return

Last updated 13 years ago

Thomas Unknown

Thomas Unknown Asked 16 years ago

Hi there. My friend has a tricky side-spin serve that I am never able to return. Otherwise, we have similar games, and I think our matches would be much more competitive if I could get his serve into play. He will serve it to my backhand so that it spins leftwards, and it always seems my return lands at the bottom of the net. What is the most effective way to return a serve that has side spin on it? Thanks!

Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario Answered 16 years ago


This is definitely one of the hardest parts of Table Tennis but don't despair.

The easiest way is to keep it simple.  Don't try and do too much with the return, but  just use the angle of your bat to counteract the spin.  If the  ball is going down to the left you need to aim up and to the right. Think of it as a clock face.  If the ball is going to 9 o'clock you need to aim at 3 o'clock.

This can take a bit of time to get used to and if it is happening in a game you may have lost a game before you work it out.  But look at it as a learning thing.  You will get better at recognising the spin the more you play. If you can play regular competition like a pennant you will be amazed at how much you will improve.

Good luck with it.  Let us know how you get on with your next match.

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Thoughts on this question

Fred Unknown

Fred Unknown Posted 15 years ago

My coach tought me there are 2 things to do, the easiest ting is to aim depanding on what spin it is, opposing the arm movement of the server. Or you can pick a spot in the middle of the table and hit hard to minimise the spin effect so this is what I do.

-short on bh I flip

-short on fh I push in the right direction, usually strait.

-long top side i smash, long back side I loop

- On my backhand long I prety much just attack anything with my short pimples

Ji-Soo Woo

Ji-Soo Woo Posted 15 years ago

The most frustrating thing in table tennis for me is when you can\'t get out of the starting blocks and show what you can do in a rally because you can\'t return a serve!  This happened to me recently too.  It\'s especially frustrating because in a best of 5 you\'ve got plenty of chances to make adjustments, but that\'s really hard to do on the fly and before you know it you\'ve lost a bunch of points without resistance.

 One helpful hint I\'ve read elsewhere is that the ball spins the direction of the arm.  If their arm moves from your left to your right when they strike the ball, your return will tend to spin to the right as well.  This is even true of top spin (arm moves up so your returns pop up) and backspin (arm moves down so your returns go into the net).

The easiest way to adjust is to just to move your aim.  If your returns are spinning way out of the table to the right due to particularly nasty spin, you might find yourself \'trying\' to hit the ball like a meter or two left of the table.  This is rather counter-intuitive and weird.  Another thing, as already mentioned, is to stroke the ball on the inside or outside depending on the spin so you just don\'t LET it spin in that direction (because your racquet is in the way).  I like this way of thinking the most (even though in practice it might amount to the same thing). 

Main thing with vicious soft sidespin is NOT TO BE PASSIVE.  Don\'t just put your racquet there, let the ball hit it, and hope for the best.  Make a judgement of its spin/speed and STROKE IT CONFIDENTLY.  If you are wrong in your reading, too bad, but at least you are giving yourself a chance.  If you just stick your racquet out there and wait for the ball to do its thing, you will ALWAYS fail.

Jeff Plumb

Jeff Plumb from PingSkills Posted 15 years ago

Great comments Fred and Ji-Soo. It can be really helpful to hear how people have learnt to return difficult serves


TIM MONTZKA Posted 14 years ago

The best way to learn to return a serve is to master serving yourself. Once you have worked through the mechanics of making the serve, I bet you will be ready to pounce on it in a match.

Kon Unknown

Kon Unknown Posted 14 years ago

If the serve is short and has spin on one side. I usually just do a little flick WITH the spin. For me, hitting against the spin actually made it harder. Or you can slice it WITH the spin i.e. not hitting it where the serve came from.

Ian Powell Unknown

Ian Powell Unknown Posted 14 years ago

I have a serve the I like to spin the ball sideways, and it fooled my opponent many times at first.  But then, like Kon Lee said, it was easier if they just "kept my spin going."  That not only made their return easier, but now I had to deal with all of the sidespin.

Aurel Drejta

Aurel Drejta Posted 14 years ago

If the serve is long i use slow spiny topspin but if its short i just give it a push at the opposite way that the boll is spining and if the ball is a bit high i use a flip

Aurel Drejta

Aurel Drejta Posted 14 years ago

If the serve is long i use slow spiny topspin but if its short i just give it a push at the opposite way that the boll is spining and if the ball is a bit high i use a flip

Sumeet Pandey

Sumeet Pandey Posted 13 years ago

It also depends where you stand and how quick your reflexes are. 

I stand around a metre away from the table If it is a fast serve (sidespin or not) the distance helps me to drive. Plus the itself loses some speed. If its slow I have to rush in and push gently. Been practicing this for a long time and still havent quite figured out the slow pushes. If your using 2.0 or max, it becomes difficult to contain the spin while returning.

Nonetheless keep practicing...

This strategy gives you better control over most serves. However I find it very difficult to return an extremely slow side spin wich practically goes horizontal after bouncing on my side. So all I try to do is see how the guy is serving... some judgement always works... unfortunately that comes with practice : ) 

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