How To Serve In Table Tennis

Building up the perfect serve can set you up for the rest of the game. Beginners and experts alike practice their serves to improve their game and dominate on the table.

How To Serve In Table Tennis

If you get this shot right, you will have complete control for the round.

We have made this easy-to-follow guide to help you master the basics and learn about the importance of serving in table tennis.

We will explain the rules, illegal serves, the types of serves you can try, and why getting it right is so important.

The Rules On Table Tennis Serves

Although we mainly want to talk about how to serve in table tennis, we cannot discuss this topic without some ground rules first.

Once you’ve wrapped your head around these concepts, you’ll be able to tackle the serving types with ease.

Your Ball Hand Should Be Flat

Although there are serves that make the ball spin, it’s the paddle that causes this motion. Your hand should just be a vehicle to get the ball into a starting position.

To show the referee, competition, and spectators that you aren’t tampering with the ball before it hits the paddle, there is a specific location the ball should start on.

Place the ball in the center of your palm, with your hand open. Your fingers should be flat to show you aren’t tampering with the ball.

The Position Of The Serve

To start the serve, you need to throw the ball up while still being behind the table’s end white line. You must also hit the ball behind this white line too.

To make sure the ball and your hand is visible, you cannot serve underneath the table’s level either.

This is to make sure you are seen, and that you don’t start unreasonably close to the net.

Tossing The Ball

For a ball to be classed as “tossed,” it should go up at 6 inches (or 16 cm) in the air. This number is measured from the table.

For a visual aid, it could help to know that 6 inches is the same width as your paddle.

Secondly, your toss must only go up. It cannot go backward (away from the table), forwards (towards the table), left, or right. Simply up.

Lastly, the ball must be visible at all times. This means your arm or hand cannot block your opponent’s view of the ball.

Which Side Of The Table Do You Hit From?

On a table tennis table, there are white lines around the border and a white stripe down the middle of the surface. In the center is a net.

In a singles game of table tennis, you can serve from any side of the table, and it can land on any side. As long as the ball goes over the net and lands somewhere on the opponent’s half, this is a legal hit.

The Rules On Table Tennis Serves

In a doubles game of table tennis, the player has to serve on one side, and it needs to land on the opposite of the opponent’s half.

It doesn’t matter which side the player chooses, as long as the ball lands on the diagonal side in the opponent’s area.

Illegal Serves

Anything that goes against the above rules would be classed as an illegal serve. But there are 5 common banned actions which some sneaky (or unaware) players make.

Beginners are the most likely players to attempt an illegal serve, but that usually comes down to a misunderstanding.

To make sure you don’t fall foul to these illegal tricks, learn what not to do!

Hidden Serve

The hidden serve is probably the most common of all the illegal serves found on the table.

We have mentioned it before, but the concept is that you hide the ball from your opponent. This could happen from a closed palm, a well-positioned arm, or a suspicious body placement.

Initially, this move was considered strategic, adding more challenges to the game. But the rules changed in 2003 to give the opponent more of a chance and elongate the overall play.

Low Throw Serve

Throwing the ball up high gives the referee and your opponent time to follow your movements. Legally, the ball should be tossed 6 inches (or 16 cm) into the air.

However, the higher the ball is thrown, the less control you’ll have over it.

Some players try to risk a low throw serve to gain more control, but this can lead to disputes over illegitimate serves.

Ideally, throw your ball at a height that you can still feel in control. For a visual reference, it should be thrown higher than your racket’s width – starting at the table.

Quick Serve

Also known as a “bad manners serve,” a quick-serve is when you start your toss before your opponent is clearly ready.

This one can cause friction within a game, and anyone could fall into a trap. To make sure you haven’t played too quickly, ask your opponent when they are ready.

Maybe create a signal, like a nod. Once both player’s nod, start the serve.

Delayed Serve

There isn’t a strict time when a player must serve, but taking “too long” is still illegal.

Quick serves aim to start the game when their opponent isn’t ready, but slow serves try to delay the match.

If everything is going well for you, slowing down your serves could save your points. Try not to think this way, as you’ll frustrate your opponent and the spectators.

In Table Serve

Serves are meant to start near the white line at the back of your table, opposite the net.

It shouldn’t be in the blue table area, nor should it be too far away from the white line.

Throwing or hitting the ball in the table area when you are serving is an illegal move.

Types of Serves

Generally speaking, there are four types of serves – the forehand, the backhand, the ghost, and the pendulum. We will explain them all.

The Forehand Serve

The forehand is the most common serve type. It is usually the first that any player will learn because of how easy it is.

To successfully complete a forehand serve, you must place your arm out, with your palm facing your opponent. In this palm, you have your bat’s handle.

Toss the ball up with your other hand (making sure to keep your palm flat), and hit the ball. Your arm should move in a simple forward swing.

The Backhand Serve

The backhand serve is similar to the forehand, however the inside of your racket arm is facing you. The back of your hand will be facing your opponent.

There isn’t an advantage between these first two serves. Simply use whichever serve seems the most comfortable to you.

The Ghost Serve

The ghost serve does two things; it makes your opponent think that you’ve hit the ball harder than you had, and it backspins the ball, displacing where it will bounce.

The idea is to confuse your opponent as if a ghost is moving the ball instead.

This move is commonly talked about but hard to achieve.

To get it right, you have to hit the ball from underneath. Once you’ve hit it, you must quickly move it horizontally to create a spin. You can do this either from right to left or left to right.

Types of Serves In Table Tennis

If successful, your opponent will think you have hit a forehand serve and move to the wrong location.

When the ball bounces and your opponent realizes their mistake, they will move closer to hit the ball.

When they move closer, the ball spins and moves in a new direction again, creating a second layer of confusion. If all goes well, your opponent will miss.

The Pendulum Serve

The pendulum serve is another difficult one to master. Elbow in the air, and your palm facing your opponent, your bat should be beneath your arm.

As you hit, you move the bat either right to left or left to right. Just like with the ghost serve, this will affect the spinning rotation of your ball.

The motion of your arm is why this serve is called a “pendulum.”

Once your bat hits the ball, the ball will move in a curve around the table, making it harder for your opponent to hit.

As your arm swings, your opponent will not know which direction the ball will go – adding more tension to the game.

The Benefits Of Perfecting A Serve

In table tennis you never have complete control over the ball. You are always balancing and recorrecting the moves of your opponent. The only time this isn’t true is when you’re serving.

Your serve will determine the ball’s speed, rhythm, and spin, allowing you to play to your advantage or confuse your opponent.

A great serve will force your opponent to act defensively, allowing you to focus on the attack.

It would be easy for a defensive player to make a mistake and lose the round, but an attacking player would be more likely to lose their advantage before giving up a point.

This gives you more time, and puts pressure on your opponent.

If you want to concentrate on one part of table tennis the most, make it your serve.

The Strategy Of Changing Serves

When you use serves in your overall table tennis strategy, your main aim is to off-balance your opponent.

Ghost serves, and pendulum serves do this well by themselves, but a good player will know how to learn as they play.

After a couple points have been lost, they might figure out how to deflect and re-balance themselves from your spinning balls, leaving you with no power in your serve.

To stop anyone from becoming too comfortable, you should change your serving strategy.

Using different serves every time will keep your opponent on edge. They won’t know how the game will go, giving you a constant advantage.

Alternatively, you should use the same serve for most of the game and then switch it up when things are looking tough.

This sudden and unexpected change will be even more off-putting as your opponent has spent the whole game learning your other moves.


There are four main serves that every table tennis player should earn- the forehand, the backhand, the ghost, and the pendulum. Mastering these serves will put you leagues above any beginner.

Once you get the hang of one serve, come back to this page to learn about the others.

Dave White