By Carl Danner

Many improving players focus on spin and disguise when improving their serves. But there’s another skill that’s even more important.

The placement of your serves on the table — as in the exact placement of your serves on the table — is critical to success at every level, but especially against stronger players as you game improves. That’s because skilled opponents can adjust to any spin, but are more limited in how they an adjust to good placement. For example, a short, low serve rules out a big loop swing that reaches below the table. A deep, fast serve can cramp an opponent who crowds the table. Players with lazy feet can get caught by a quick serve to the switch point between forehand and backhand. Whether your serve bounces long on a critical point can determine the outcome of a match, because your opponent may rip the deep one. And so on.

Try some placement practice at your next playing session. See if you can serve consistently to nine locations: Short, long, and half-long to the backhand, middle and forehand sides of the table. (Half-long is where the second bounce on your opponent’s side would occur just at the end of the table.) Don’t worry about spin at first, just get the ball low over the net to each spot a few times. When you get the feel for this, try the same drill using some of your favorite serves. Then start paying attention to which spots seem more difficult for various opponents to handle. You might be surprised what a difference can be made simply by moving the serve around.