Coaches Corner: The Hook Serve
by By Shuang Wang
Serving is one of the most critical skills a table tennis player should master. A properly executed serve can help you gain a quick advantage in a match. Whether by giving your opponent a hard time returning the ball or by controlling the “third ball” (the rally that ensues after the returned serve). The server’s primary purpose is to generate spin on the ball and deceive the opponent in reading the serve. The more diverse your repertoire of serves gets, the better the chances of deceiving your opponent and winning a match are.
There are plenty of serves you can learn to improve your game: forehand, backhand, high toss, pendulum, tomahawk, etc. The topspin serve is a classic example of serve executed by players of all levels.
It is always good for a player to have a fast, precise, and straightforward topspin serve in its arsenal of serves. Figuring out the opponent’s weakness (backhand or forehand) and surprising him/her by properly executing a fast topspin serve towards such weakness, is a sure recipe for scoring some points during a match.
However, the downside of a fast and straightforward topspin serve is that medium and advanced players might find them too easy to read and return. Returning a fast topspin serve is relatively simple: you can block it, hit the ball flat-forward, or hit it with topspin. Therefore, overusing topspin serves during a match might eventually backfire.
Here is where the Hook Serve comes in hand. The Hook Serve, as the name implies, has a very unique motion, similar to a hook punch. Your whole body comes together while executing this serve.
The motion of your body, forearm and a little bit of wrist movement are used to deceive your opponent, making it more difficult for him to read the spin generated on the ball and, consequently, more difficult to return your serve. For that matter, the Hook Serve became a favorite among the top players, like Liu Shiwen who can execute it with perfection.
The Hook Serve has the overall visual impression of a regular topspin serve, nevertheless you can use it to disguise other types of spins. The speed of the serve will be generated by the “punching movement” of your whole body, towards hitting the ball.
The Hook Serve is not hard to learn, although it can be a bit tricky to be properly executed. Therefore, I will break down step-by-step how to do the Hook Serve generating different kinds of spin on the ball.
Since this serve is usually executed with fast movements, I have recorded a video in super slow-motion so you can pay special attention to my body, forearm and wrist movements. Feel free to pause the video at any time and move the cursor back and forth so you can see in detail all the movements that I am doing for executing this serve. I am using a special dual-color training ball, just to make the visualization/perception of the spins easier.
For the Hook Serve, most players start at the backhand corner of the table, changing eventually to the middle of the table. l personally don’t have a preference and suggest you try both positions, choosing whatever you feel more comfortable while serving, backhand corner or middle.
The main idea is to rotate your upper body so you can take advantage of energy generated by your body’s rotation and associate it with the motion of your forearm while serving.
As a general recommendation - and this actually works for any kind of serve - always try to do the same service in different positions. By doing so, you make it more difficult for your opponent to read what kind of serve/spin you are executing. Always consider changing the angle in which the opponent perceives your position at the table and the serve you are executing. Just be careful and avoid hiding the ball with your body, otherwise your serve will be considered illegal! During the serve, the ball must always be on sight by your opponent.
This serve can be done with a high or low toss of the ball. The higher you toss the ball, the more spin you can generate once it touches the paddle. Once again, the rule of a thumb is to do whatever you feel more comfortable. I also don’t have a specific preference when it comes to how high the ball should be tossed during serve. It is always advisable to vary the ball toss during serves as a way to change the rhythm of the match and cause some tension on your opponent. Remember that the legal serve requires the ball to be tossed at least 16cm high.
Using the Hook Serve technique for generating side-underspin:
1) Toss the ball straight, near your body.
2) Keep your arm relaxed. You will not use your wrist for executing side-underspin.
3) Take a low stance hook swing, keeping your racket in a 45 degree angle.
4) Move your upper body altogether with your forearm, in a single motion. Your elbow will be your pivot point while twisting your forearm to hit the ball.
5) Considering clock coordinates, brush the ball at the 5 o’clock position, on the side-underneath part the ball.
6) Right after you hit the ball move your forearm down.
To use the Hook Serve technique for generating side-topspin:
1) Toss up the ball straight, near your body.
2) Keep your arm relaxed and your wrist loose. For generating side-topspin, you will use a gentle and fast upward wrist movement.
3) Take a low stance hook swing, keeping your racket open, in almost a 90 degree angle.
4) Upper body and forearm move altogether.
5) With a gentle and fast wrist movement, brush the ball upwards at the 3 o’clock position and right after touching the ball, move your forearm down.
These are in a nutshell, the main steps you should follow to proceed with the Hook Serve. I hope to have clarified the mechanics of this serve and explained the proper way to execute it. Review my slow-motion video below and pay special attention to the movements of my upper body, forearm and wrist (for the side-topspin).
Make sure you practice this serve on a regular basis and try to use it whenever you feel comfortable. Whenever possible, try to record yourself in video so you can review and analyze your body, and figure out which movements you can perfect.
Just like any sport, Table Tennis requires a lot of practice and repetition. Practice as much as you can and, more than anything, have fun!
Take care and see you next time!