A brief summation of the rules of table tennis, it’s history in the Olympics and India’s finest in the sport.
A sport of intense speed and jaw-dropping precision, table tennis is perhaps one of the most exciting sporting spectacles. The incredible pace of the matches and the fascinating shot-making ability of the players makes the sport a beguiling sight.
While table tennis has been wildly popular across the globe since the 20th century, the past decade has seen a spike in the number of elite Indian players of the game that are quickly becoming household names in the country.
Below, we explore the history of table tennis, explain its rules and take a look at the intriguing rise of the sport in India
Originally a leisure activity for the upper-class in Victorian-era England, the sport was originally called ping-pong before being renamed to table tennis in 1921-22. 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 made its way to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has since been a fixture in the quadrennial event.
Table tennis is played on a 2.74 x 1.53-metre rectangular table made of fibrewood, that is split into two halves by a 15.25 centimetre-tall net in the centre. The table is coated with dark and glossy paint, giving it a matte finish.
The bat, more commonly referred to as a ‘racquet’ or ‘paddle’, is approximately 17 cms long and 15 cms wide, made primarily of wood, and has a black rubber surface on one side and a red surface on the other.
The ball, usually orange or white in colour, weighs about 2.7 grams and is perfectly spherical, with a diameter of 40 millimeters.
The umpire conducts a coin-toss before the match and the winner opts to serve the ball first, receive it, or choose which 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 matter such that the ball bounces first on their side of the table before bouncing over the net to the other side, after which the receiver can return it by hitting it over the net and into the opponent’s half of the table.
The aim in table tennis is to strike the ball with such ferocity that the opponent fails to make contact with the ball, which earns the player a point and the opportunity to serve. However, if a player hits the ball on to 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 as well the subsequent serve.
Like badminton and tennis, the sport of table tennis features three formats – Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles. The rules for singles competition and doubles vary slightly.
While a player has the liberty to serve anywhere on the table in singles competition, the server in doubles and mixed doubles has to ensure that the ball travels diagonally over to the other side of the table.
Teammates in doubles and mixed doubles competition are expected to take shot alternately, and failure to do so will result in a loss of a point for that team. The first to score 11 points wins a ‘game’ in table tennis, and the matches are usually either a best-of-five or best-of-seven games. If a game is tied at 10 points apiece, the first player or team to build a two-point lead is awarded the game.
While table tennis is a widely popular sport in India today, the nation has caught on the fever only in the past decade or so.
India’s first real star in the sport was Kamlesh Mehta in the eighties, who dominated the national circuit and was also among Asia’s top-ranked players in his prime.
Chetan Baboor took over the mantle from Mehta in the nineties and even managed to get his hands on a couple of Commonwealth Games medals. He also represented India in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
Sharath Kamal Achanta’s gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne was a landmark moment for the sport in the nation and has since seen a rise in the number of Indian table tennis players that have left their imprint on the global stage.
Among the current crop of Indian table tennis players, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra have made headways in the sport. While the former became the first Indian player to enter the top 25 of the world rankings, the latter was the nation’s first female player to enter the top 50, where she still currently resides.