Timo Boll’s round of 32 match at the WTTC against Jens Lundqvist of Sweden reminded me of a key point: No spin services can be effective against high level players, not only as a change up to heavy spin serves, but even if they are used most of the time. This is often overlooked by even high level players, usually because they have been taught to focus on spin variations and deception value of their services.
It was the second set when Richard Prause, who was commentating on the match for ITTV, said:”(Boll) is struggling in this second game. He tried returning long but it’s too tough on this serve of Jens to get good quality. It’s low. It’s no spin.”
Prause’ credentials couldn’t be higher. As German National Team Coach from 2004 to 2010, he knows Boll’s game very well. Hearing him commentate on Boll’s matches is a highlight of any ITTV coverage for me.
The co-commentator picks up on Prause’s point: “I know what you mean. A low with no spin (serve). What can you do with that? Difficult to generate spin of your own with the receive. You usually work with the spin that you are given. If it’s a long serve of course you can attack but not with a short one.”
Lundqvist would go on to win that set, and level again at 2-2 before Boll broke away, but the effectiveness of his service strategy had already been revealed.
So how can we use this in our own games? As both commentators mentioned, the serve must stay low over the net, so the receiver cannot hit it until after the top of its bounce. If they can contact it earlier, they can use the rise of the ball to generate spin and power. If you can force this late contact on the receive, the return will always be a slow return, and whether it has topspin or backspin, it will not have a lot of it, making your attacks easier.
The objective of this service is not to win the point outright, but to force a predictable return that you can attack with consistency.
How can we ensure they receive it late? Well, as mentioned, keeping your service low is the number one way. Deliberately trying to serve lets is a fun way to keep yourself motivated in practicing this, especially if you can do it with a friend. Serve 10 no spin serves in a row each, counting the number of lets you can serve, and trying to beat each other’s score. This competitiveness also adds an element of pressure to your practice, which will serve you well in match situations.
Once you have mastered this, a second way is to mix up these with your long serves. By doing this, you put doubt in your opponent’s mind as to how far from the table to stand so they can reach your short serves but still be ready for the occasions when you serve long. Ultimately, this will make them fractionally later when stepping in to meet your short serves.