On Friday nights, my family and I host ping-pong parties and every once in a while a disagreement about the rules comes up. One of my cousins served the ball and it hit his side before it went over the net and my aunt was not having it so I decided to do some research on if it was an illegal serve or not.
So can a table tennis serve bounce twice? No, in the process of a serve, the table tennis ball is allowed to bounce no more than once on the serving side of the game table. Once the ball passes onto the opponent's side of the net however, the ball bouncing twice would result in a score for the serving team.
However, the table tennis serve has a much larger set of rules that can vary depending on what league’s directions you follow.
A Legal Serve According to the International Table Tennis Federation
There are of course many variations to the rules of table tennis but for now we’ll touch up on the official rules set by the International Table Tennis Federation.
There are many steps involved in completing a legal serve. Starting off the server is required to hold the ping pong ball in the open palm of their hand. If held in their fingers or in a slightly closed hand it is considered an illegal serve. This is to make sure that no spin is added to the ball before it is hit.
Adding spin to the ball on a serve is not allowed. After holding the ball in the correct position, the server throws the ball upwards and strikes it before it hits the table. The ball has to hit the server’s side of the court before going over the net.
If it hits more than once the point goes to the opponent. The server’s goal is to let the ball bounce twice on the opponent’s side or make their opponent miss the ball entirely. If the server hits the net while serving it’s called a ‘let serve’. It doesn’t matter if the ball hits the server’s side or the opponents.
If the ball lands back on the table the server is allowed to serve again without any points given out. However, if the ball lands on the floor after hitting the net the point goes to the opponent.
Service changes every 5 plays no matter what the score is until the winning point. Since you need 11 points to win a game, if one player reaches their 10th point the other player gets to serve. You need a 2 point margin in order to win a game.
Can You Hit a Ping Pong Ball Twice?
In the previous rules of table tennis you couldn’t hit the ball twice. If the ball hit your finger and then the paddle it was considered a double hit. If you hit both your finger and the paddle at the same time it was considered a double hit. As you can imagine, having to tell if a ball hit your finger or paddle or both was very difficult. Today, players are allowed to hit the ball twice in a row if they hit their finger accidentally but not if they purposely hit the ball twice.
Can You Bounce the Ball Before Serving in Table Tennis?
According to the ITTF rule book, it is in fact illegal to bounce the ball before hitting it. As stated previously, the server must toss the ball in the air with an open palm and hit it before it hits the table. Tossing it downward and hitting it after it bounces up is considered a double bounce.
Can a Ping Pong Ball Go Off The Side of The Table?
If the ball bounces on your side, goes over the net, and bounces on your opponent's side the ball can go over the table and score you a point. There is one exception to this rule. In a game of doubles, if you serve the ball it must land in the half of the court kitty-corner to you. If it lands on the half directly across from you your opponent scores a point.
How to Count Score in Table Tennis
There are a couple rules that can help you score in table tennis. The ball must bounce once on your side before it’s your play. If the ball goes over the side of your table without hitting the table the point is yours. This rule applies to serves as well unless it is a let serve.
As mentioned in the above paragraph, a player must win by at least 11 points. Because you need to win by two points it’s possible to win by more than two points if it’s a close game.
Types of Table Tennis Serves
There are three types of serves used in professional table tennis; the short backspin serve, backhand spinside serve, and the forehand high toss serve.
Short backspin is a very fast-moving serve designed to prevent your opponent from hitting the ball before a second bounce. If they do manage to hit the ball before then their play is typically weak and gives a higher bounce. Because this serve puts spin on the ball, it isn’t legal according to the ITTF rules but is used in many other leagues.
Backhand spinside is very similar to the short backspin but because you put spin on the side of the ball it changes course once it bounces on your opponent’s side. Again because it has spin this move isn’t legal to the ITTF rules.
Forehand high toss is also a very fast-moving serve. You put spin on the bottom of the ball so that when it bounces on your opponent’s side, the ball almost moves backwards in the air throwing your opponent off.