Basic Ping Pong Skills That Will Help You Win

Have you ever watched any of the great professional table tennis players in the Olympic Games or other International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) tournaments? If so, you surely noticed how much speed and spin they have in their serves, and also how far away they stand from the end of the table. Lots of professional players also change their grips quite often during rallies.

Learning a range of good grips as you start developing your skills is often one of the best ways to improve. We’ve found that many beginner and intermediate players would really love to improve their skills to approach the level of these professional players, but they don’t always know about some of the basic skills that are necessary before progressing to this high level of play. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common ping pong basics that will help you win.

Two ping-pong rackets and a ball on a brown wooden background, close-up

The right equipment can play a big role in speeding up your skill development.

Getting Some Equipment

If you are serious about improving your table tennis techniques, you will need to buy a decent table tennis paddle. Many amateur players assume that all paddles are the same, but that’s not really true. Table tennis is a game that involves a lot of spin. You’ll be holding the paddle in front of your body as well as to your sides. Therefore, you need a ping pong paddle that allows you to generate shots with lots of spin. 

As a ready-made table tennis paddle, one of the best you can get for a decent price is the Palio Expert 2. It includes tacky rubbers and a free paddle case, and you can pick one up pretty easily off Amazon. So once you’ve got a paddle that will give you some ball control, simply start playing the sport of table tennis, but don’t try to hit the ball too hard. 

Thinking About Placement and Power

Placement is more important when you are a beginner. Aim your basic strokes at three spots on your opponent’s side of the table: the wide forehand area, the wide backhand area, and all of the far edges of the table. There is no reason to hit the ball right into the middle of the table because this is your opponent’s prime hitting zone. 

This is related a little to the type of footwork you use in the game. Again, when you watch professional table tennis players, you’ll see how far away they stand from the end of the table and the huge amount of backswing they take for some of their shots. This is something you’ll surely aspire to, but it is important to always think about your basic footwork right from the beginning.

You should keep those points in mind throughout the game, but you can also use them as you get started with serving the ball too. Serving in table tennis refers to the simple process of hitting the ball over the net with one bounce on your own side and then one bounce on your opponent’s side of the table.

The Importance of Serving

Most amateurs simply start off each point with a generic “easy” serve and they don’t see the importance of using their serve to gain an advantage. Remember that the serve is the only point in the game of table tennis where you have complete control over the ball and you do not have to react to what your opponent has just done.

Basic Skill 1: Forehand Drive Technique

As used extensively by the legendary Liu Guoliang, the forehand drive technique is one of the first fundamental table tennis skills that you should learn. It is an attacking stroke and it can really help you build up a whole bunch of points very quickly.

This skill helps you get a feel for the ball and it also helps you find a level of comfort behind your end of the table. Unlike so much basic table tennis advice out there, which recommends that you learn the grip or the stance first, you can indeed start learning the forehand drive right from the beginning.

When using the forehand drive, be sure to keep in mind that some players deliberately try to gain an advantage by taking much longer than necessary to serve the ball. They might do this to help slow the pace of the game or to disrupt their opponent’s momentum during a crucial stage.

Basic Skill 2: Backhand Topspin Technique

Backhand topspin is another basic skill that every player should master. Lots of beginners have the attitude of learning the forehand technique first and then learning the backhand technique later on. But we think it is better to learn the backhand stroke technique as soon as possible because it helps you understand how to use your wrist correctly. 

You will also learn how to relax and how to accelerate your timing when you master the basic backhand topspin technique. Remember to focus on the speed of these shots. To increase your speed, try to hit the ball sooner and faster than usual, as demonstrated expertly by top players like Tomokazu Harimoto, Zhang Jike, and Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

Basic Skill 3: The Forehand Flick

The Forehand Flick

After getting a feel for the ball and practicing some relaxed grips, another thing to focus on is your timing, which refers to when to hit the ball. One of the best exercises for this is to practice your forehand and backhand flick shots. 

The flick (or flip) technique used to be considered to be an advanced skill in table tennis, but in the modern table tennis era, many coaches are now considering this a fundamental skill. If you cannot aggressively return the ball from your end of the table, you will easily be dominated by other players in the modern game of table tennis.  

Basic Skill 4: The Backhand Flick

The Backhand Flick

As explained above, the backhand flick is now considered a fairly standard way to return a wide range of topspin or sidespin short serves that you might face. For this reason and others, many years ago, the backhand flick was invented by a few of the most prominent and skillful European players. There are actually two types of the backhand flick: the banana flick and the strawberry flick.

A banana flick is when a right-hander goes around the left side of the ball with a backhand flick. A strawberry flick is when they go around the right side of the ball. These can both be effective low shots that fall close to the net with a little backspin. To play these shots, simply drop your fingers below your wrist and the end of your paddle and whip your wrist to the right while brushing the right side of the ball.

Basic Skill 5: The Backhand Loop

The Backhand Loop

This technique seems to be one of the hardest for beginners to learn. However, it is not actually that difficult. The key to the backhand loop is to use the elbow and the lower part of your body because if you only use your arm to lift the ball, it will be hard to put any spin on the ball. 

With this technique, the serving player can sometimes obscure the ping pong ball from their opponent using a piece of clothing or parts of their body. The advantage of this is that it can prevent the opponent from judging exactly what type of service will be coming when the ball touches the paddle.

Use the lower part of your legs to rise up and hit the ball forward. Many Chinese table tennis players tend to use the lower part of their body extensively. As you go about mastering all of the basic skills, always incorporate your body into your strokes as much as you can.

Basic Skill 6: The Forehand Fast Serve

The Forehand Fast Serve

The forehand fast serve is another indispensable skill in modern table tennis. The master of this type of serve is Jan-Ove Waldner (also known as the “Mozart of Table Tennis”), but players like Tomokazu Harimoto and Miu Hirano are also using this attacking playing style to great effect by incorporating the forehand fast serve as often as they can as a surprise factor.

Some other advantages of this type of serve include putting the opponent under pressure, reducing the quality of the opponent’s service return, and having a better chance of attacking first during rallies and counter-rallies in order to earn valuable advantages later on in the game.

Basic Skill 7: The Forehand Pendulum Serve

The pendulum serve refers to when you move the paddle from right to left and left to right. This will give you two different types of spin, which are known as clockwise and counter-clockwise. You have a lot of options when using this type of serve, depending on where the ball and paddle come into contact with one another, and how hard you hit the ball. This serve is easy to learn but difficult to master, so you should learn it as soon as possible.

Some players try to get an advantage by catching the opponent off guard by attempting a pendulum serve when the other player is not quite ready to return the ball. While not technically illegal, this can be considered quite a dirty tactic that is often used by unscrupulous players to try and gain an unfair advantage.

Basic Skill 8: The Backhand Sidespin Serve

The backhand sidespin serve uses pretty much the same motion as the forehand serve. There is only one major difference, which is that the back of the hand is facing the other player. You hit the ball in the same way as you would during a forehand serve. This type of serve gives you better ball control and placement and it also allows you to reduce the pace of the game at times.

For all of these reasons, sometimes this serve can change the outcome of the match. Watch how Ma Long comes back after losing 0-2 to Lee Sangsu in the China versus Korea series in Busan in 2013. Ma Long used the backhand serve to completely change the result of that match.


Some of the Most Common Skills in Table Tennis and Ping Pong 

So those are really some of the most common techniques for beginners to know. There are also some other pretty basic ping pong skills that will help you win games. Some of the best ways to learn how to play table tennis are by practicing these basic ping pong skills, which can easily be adapted to the modern game of table tennis. 

A simple example of a basic tip to keep in mind is to always remember that during your table tennis serve, you can hit the ball from either side of the table to anywhere on the opposing side of the table. This is important to know because it really limits the types of serves you can try if you are always trying to hit the ball in a diagonal way.

It is only during a game of doubles that you have to serve from one part of the server’s side to the other part of your opponent’s side. There is no rule that dictates that you cannot hit the ball straight down the line if that is what you feel like doing-especially if your opponent is on the other side of the table and does not have the strongest footwork in the world.

Avoid These Illegal Tactics 

Just like in any other sport, you will often come up against the type of players who try to bend the rules a little to give themselves a slight advantage in their games. There are, not surprisingly, several types of serve that, while very effective, are actually illegal serves and so they should be avoided even when you are playing informal games of ping pong with your buddies in your basement.

Much like in many other things in life, once you learn a few undesirable habits in ping pong, they can turn out to be very hard to break at a later stage. For example, some tall players try to serve the ping pong ball after leaning far over the table (instead of serving from behind the end line of the table like they are supposed to).

This type of serve can give the player an advantage of serving from a much better angle to make the service much harder for their opponent to reach. Also, some servers drop the ping pong ball onto the paddle or throw it up just slightly so that it does not reach the required 6 inches in height.

This type of action makes it that much harder for their opponent to judge the amount of spin on the ball or to get ready to return it. While some players might not realize that this type of serve is illegal, they should have no excuse to keep on doing it if you point out the official ITTF rules to them.

Use These Basic Skills to Work for You 

Ultimately, so many of the points that you win as a result of your basic skills can often be the difference between you winning or losing an entire match. So many games in the Olympics and other International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) tournaments could have so easily gone the other way with just a point or two of difference. 

To pick up some more tips, spend some time watching some of the best players on Youtube table tennis games or at an actual ping pong tournament. Spending a few hours with a table tennis coach can also work wonders for your game. To become the best player you can be, it is important that you devote plenty of time to practicing your basic skills and developing them as much as possible. 

Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.