Table tennis in a nutshell
The equipment, scoring and rules of table tennis
Before you get going with table tennis, it's good to know the ground rules of the sport and what equipment you might need. Here's a quick rundown on everything you will need to know to get involved in table tennis.
Table tennis equipment includes ...
The table tennis ball. International competition rules specify that the game of table tennis should be played with a light 2.7g (0.1oz), 40mm (1.57in) diameter high-bouncing hollow celluloid ball.
The table tennis table. This should be 2.74m (9ft) long, 1.525m (5ft) wide, and positioned at 76cm (30 inches) high.
The table tennis net. This is always 15.2cm (6in) high.
The table tennis bat. The bat is also referred to as a racket or paddle; the bat can have a rubber layer on one or both sides.
Games of table tennis
During normal game play, serve alternates every two points (regardless of the winner) until a player wins with a two-point lead or until a 'deuce' game is required — then serve alternates after each point.
Typically, games are played very much like a tie break in tennis, but the target is 11 points and a player must win by at least a two point difference. Should both players reach 10 points, a "deuce" game comes into effect, with serve alternating after each point and the game is won by the player who eventually gains a lead of two points. However, there is an exception — many people may still play the old 21 point game, where service alternates after every five points.
In table tennis doubles, service alternates every two points between sides, but also rotates between players on the same team. All the rules of singles apply, but players have to serve to opposite sides of the court (as in a game of tennis) whereas in singles they do not.
A match usually consists of the best of seven games (the first to win four), but in competition this can also be best out of five or even nine.
Who serves first in table tennis?
In top flight table tennis competition, service is decided by the toss of a coin. People playing just for fun often decide the right to serve by having a short rally — whoever does not make an error is the one to serve.
How to serve in table tennis
The player releases the ball behind the edge of the table and hits it so that it bounces on his/her side of the table and then strikes the ball, it then bounces once in the opponent’s court. If a serve goes straight into the net and does not pass over into the court on the other side, then it is a point for the opponent. If a serve hits the net, but goes over, it is considered a ‘let’, and can be taken again with no penalty.
The opponent has to return by returning the ball before it bounces twice and must hit it directly over the net into the opposing court — it should not be bounced in the player’s own court by themselves as in the serve. The players then alternate playing the ball and having it bounce on the opponent's side of the table until a player makes an error.
Scoring at table tennis
Players earn points regardless of who served the ball and points are awarded to the opponent during play for the following:
- Failing to reach the ball or not hitting it back before it bounces twice.
- Having the ball bounce on one's own side after hitting it.
- Double hitting the table tennis ball.
- Failing to allow the ball to bounce once in one's own side — you are not allowed to volley the ball like players do in tennis.
- Failing to get the service correctly into play (unless it is a ‘let’).
Getting started playing table tennis
Getting started at playing table tennis is pretty straightforward for the beginner and initially you probably won’t even have to buy any equipment whatsoever.
At one time in our lives many of us have played table tennis, usually on a family vacation. Ping pong seems to be a regular feature of many a campsite or local park's facilities. But what if you want to get involved in playing table tennis on a regular basis?
The good news is that many sports facilities now include table tennis as one of their activity options, so there is no excuse not to get involved. Table tennis can be played in singles or doubles, so if you want to make it a more social activity why not take a friend or partner along?
After a few sessions you may find you want to take your play to a more competitive level — the best advice then is to join a local club.