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.
Table tennis serves and service rules
A table tennis match begins with the umpire conducting a coin toss. The winner has the option 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.
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 of the game is simple; hit the ball over the net onto your opponent’s side in a manner that the opponent fails to make contact with the ball.
A point is won by you if your opponent is unable to return the ball to your side of the table e.g. they miss the ball, they hit the ball but it misses your side of the table, or the ball hits the net, or if they hit the ball before it bounces on their side of the table.
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.
A player takes two serves before the ball switches to the opponent to serve. Service can be diagonal or in a straight line in singles.
Service must be diagonal, from the right half court (marked by a white line) to the opponent’s right half court.
Service changeover in Doubles is as follows:
At the start of a game, the serving team will decide which player will serve first. The first player to serve is A1 and;
A1 serves to B1 (2 services)
B1 then serves to A2 (2 services)
A2 then serves to B2 (2 services)
B2 serves to A1 2 services)
At the end of game 1 and the start of game 2, team B will take the first serve; B1 must serve to A1. A1 then serves to B2 and so on.
Rotation rules for doubles
In doubles, you should alternate hitting the ball with your partner. So, for example, A1 serves the ball to B1, who returns the ball. A2 then hits the ball and B2 returns this. A1 hits and B2 returns, A2 hits and B1 returns….and so on.
Service rules you must obey
The ball must first bounce on your side and then in your opponents. Your opponent must allow the ball to hit their side of the table before trying to return this.
The ball must pass cleanly over the net – if it ‘clips’ the net and goes over, it is a ‘let’ and the serve is retaken. If it hits the net and doesn’t go over, the point goes to the other player/team. There are no second serves.