Feature | Table Tennis

Table tennis rules, scoring system and all you need to know

Table tennis made its way to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has since been a fixture in the quadrennial event. Here are the official rules of table tennis.

By Jay Lokegaonkar and Naveen Peter ·

A sport of intense speed and jaw-dropping precision, table tennis is one of the most exciting sporting spectacles.

Originally a leisure activity for the upper-class in Victorian-era England, the sport was initially called ping pong before being renamed to table tennis in 1922. In its early days, the sport was largely played and dominated by Europeans, especially the Hungarians.

However, table tennis became widely popular in Asia after finding its way to the continent in the 1950s, which has since been a breeding ground for some of the best players in the world.

Just eight years after hosting its first World Cup in China, table tennis featured at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has since been a fixture at the Games.

Here’s a look at table tennis rules, the regulations, equipment used and how the game is played.

Table tennis equipment

Table tennis table

As per the official rules of table tennis, the game is played on a 2.74 x 1.53-metre rectangular table made of fibrewood and is split into two halves.

A table tennis table is made of fibrewood that is split into two halves.

The table is coated with dark and glossy paint, giving it a matte finish. A two centimetre-thick line runs over the border of the table, marking the playing surface.

The table is divided into two halves by a net that's suspended using two poles attached to the table. The table tennis net stands at a height of 15.25 centimetres.

Table tennis racquet

The bat, commonly referred to as a ‘racquet’ or ‘paddle’, is approximately 17cms long and 15cms wide, made primarily of wood. It has a rubber surface on either side - black and red - that help the players in applying and negating the spin on the ball.

Table tennis ball

The ball, usually orange or white, weighs about 2.7 grams and is spherical with a diameter of 40 millimetres as per rules and regulations.

How to play table tennis

Table tennis serves and service rules

A table tennis match begins with the umpire conducting a coin-toss. The winner has the options to serve the ball first, receive it, or choose the side of the table they’d like to play from.

The server has to hold the ball with an open palm, toss it up and strike it in a manner that the ball bounces first on the server’s side of the table before bouncing over the net to the other side.

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The receiver, however, can return it by hitting it over the net and into the opponent’s half of the table. If the player attempts to return the ball before it bounces, a foul is called.

In singles competition, while the service rule allows the server to serve to any part of the table on the opposite end, in doubles, the service has to travel diagonally across the table. Here, the serving player plays from the right side of the table.

How table tennis points are scored

The aim in table tennis is to strike the ball in a manner that the opponent fails to make contact with the ball, which earns the player a point. This can either be by sheer power, spin or other deceptive means.

However, if the ball hits the net and it fails to bounce over into the opponent’s half, or hits it over the net and out of bounds without coming into contact with the table, the opponent gets a point.

In doubles, the rule gets a bit more tricky. Here, the server and the partner have to alternate while attempting to push the ball on to the opponent’s side of the table. Here the service alternates as well.

The opponent can also be awarded a point if you hit the ball outside the playing surface or if the ball comes in contact with any part of your body while attempting a shot.

How to win in table tennis

According to the laws of table tennis, a player can win a game of table tennis by scoring 11 points - with one point awarded for every infringement. Every player gets to serve twice in a row. The first to 11 points is declared the winner.

If the points are tied at 10-10, a player then has to strive for a two-point lead to win the game.

A match is won by winning games. The number of games per match varies across competitions and categories.

While singles matches are usually a best-of-seven event, doubles are a best-of-five affair.

Table tennis shots

By changing pace and angle, players can extend their range and variation of shots. This helps improve their game significantly.

Some of the widely used shots are as follows.

Topspin

It’s one of the commonly used attacking shots in the game. Here, the player glides the bottom side of the paddle, while holding it in a 45-degree angle, over the ball to push it ahead. The ball spins after bouncing, making it relatively difficult for the opponent to execute a timely return.

Block

It’s one of the first shots that a table tennis player is taught while being introduced to the game. Standing square of the table, the player holds the paddle with an open face, returning the ball using the paddle side facing the table.

Chop

It’s a defensive shot that many players resort to when trying to negotiate spin. Staying away from the table, here, the player uses the top side of the paddle, pushing it downwards at a 45-degree angle while making contact with the bottom half of the ball.

A chop can be played with both forehand and backhand, depending on the player’s position while receiving the ball.

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Table tennis at the Olympics

At the Olympic Games, table tennis is organised in two categories for men and women -- team events and singles competition. The matches in a team event is a best-of-five affair, while the singles have best-of-seven encounters.

Introduced at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, table tennis initially had competitions in the singles and the doubles category. However, this was revised at Beijing 2008 where doubles events made way for team competition in both the men’s and the women’s division.

China has dominated the sport, bagging 53 medals of which 28 are gold. South Korea is next with 18 medals, of which three are gold.

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