Bernd-Ulrich Gross was the head coach of a German Bundesliga table tennis club from 1989-1991. He was publisher and editor of a German table tennis magazine and organizer of big table tennis events. Gross is involved in the production of the monthly Newsletter of the Japanese company Butterfly, the world-famous manufacturer of table tennis equipment.
3 ABOUT THE STROKE TECHNIQUES 3.1 The Service
"The service is the most important stroke in table tennis"
The game is opened with a service. It is the only stroke technique that is played without the influence of an opponent. No other technique can be varied so much concerning rotation, placement and speed. It is a stroke technique, which decides the outcome of a game to a large extent. Despite its importance, a lot of amateurs don't pay a lot of attention to service training.
This technique is special. Some love it, some hate it. As the stroke that opens the game, how important is the serve generally?
The service is without a doubt the most important stroke in table tennis. At the same time, it is also the visiting card of each player because the possibilities of variation are endless. A bad serve is very often followed by the loss of a point in the same way a clever and varied serve often leads to winning a point.
There are good servers and not-so-good servers. At the top level, there are surely differences but not as obvious as with amateurs. How important is the serve for your game?
For me, the service is a very important tactical tool.
You prefer serving forehand, but I think I have also seen you serve backhand. What are the advantages of a forehand serve, and when is it worth using the backhand variety?
I practice the forehand serve much more, therefore I use the backhand variety very seldom.
Have you got one secret serve that you keep for important match situations to surprise your opponent?
I have some service varieties that I use very consciously. I would not call it a secret serve though.
There are only a few players, like Samsonov, Primorac, Saive and now Ovtcharov, who frequently serve with their backhand. Is that because of their aptitude, their former coaches or just coincidence?
I would call it preference; a preference that is connected to their aptitude. Not so much in the case of Samsonov (more a tactical variety) than with other players.
Would you tell younger players to practice forehand and backhand serves equally?
Yes, of course. Personal preferences should be supported.
You played in Magdeburg against the young German, Dimitrij Ovtcharov. When I saw him a year ago for the first time, I noticed his unconventional serves straight away. Side spin serves with the forehand from a low position like you saw during the '60s and '70s, and backhand side spin serves that remind me of Stellan Bengtsson or Peter Stellwag. Wang Liqin had big problems with these during the German Open in Bremen. Does this mean that anything is possible with serves?
It shows that serve varieties can be very effective every now and again. The more attention drawn to a special technique, the more it is going to be analyzed and lose its effectiveness. Therefore, all top players must constantly think of new varieties. That is the only way to survive several years as a world class player.
The serve is connected closely to nerves and self-confidence. You have got to be very relaxed and feel loose. Many become too tense when serving and produce direct faults or hand over the advantage to the opponent. Are you familiar with these situations? If so, what can you do to prevent them?
Naturally, I know these situations. I hope that I have learned by now to handle them.
In order to stay relaxed, does it help to shake your forearm every now and again?
Physiologically: yes. Psychologically: no. The basis for each serve, not counting technical ability, is the mental temperament. In my experience, the tension in your hand is rarely a result of too demanding physiological stress on the muscles in your han