It's hard to keep track of the scores in table tennis when you don't know the rules. I didn't know how to serve, score, or what a rally is. So to better understand how to play table tennis, I did some research on table tennis.
So what is official table tennis game rule and regulations?
Let's start out an official table tennis terms and definitions:
- Rally: period during which the ball is in play
- ...in play… The ball in “in play” form the last moment it is stationary on palm of the freehand before intentionally projected in service until rally is decided as a let or point
- Let: is a rally (play period) in which the result is NOT scored
- Point: is a rally (play period) in which the result is scored
- Racket Hand: the hand carrying the racket
- Free Hand: the hand NOT carrying the racket.
- Strikes: a strike is when a player touches a ball in play with their racket.
- Obstructs: a ball is obstructed when anything a player wears/carries touches the ball in play when it is above or travelling towards the playing surface, not having touched his or her court since last being struck by his or her opponent.
- Server: the player that strikes the ball first in the rally
- Receiver: the player that strikes the ball second in the rally
- Umpire: a person appointed to control a match
- Assistant Umpire: a person appointed to assist the umpire with certain decisions
- Wears/carries: anything a player wears or carries other than the ball at the start of the rally.
- End line: extending infinitely in both directions.
Serving rules in Table Tennis
Games start with a serve which have their own set of rules. These rules are designed to help the other player determine the spin or lack of spin on the ball by the server. Each player serves twice in a row before handing the ball off to their opponent.
To begin it, the server must keep the ball where their opponent can always see it. The ball has to lay in the servers open palm and thrown up vertically. Servers must wait for the ball to fall downwards before hitting it with their paddle. The ball must hit the servers side before going over the net.
If the ball goes over the side of the table without it hitting the server’s opponent then the server loses the point. Failing to hit their own side of the table will result in a lost point. Hitting the net is called a ‘let’ and allows for a re-serve. Two ‘let’ serves in a row is a lost point for the server.
- Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand.
- The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.
- As the ball is falling the server shall strike it so that it touches first his or her court and then touches directly the receiver's court; in doubles, the ball shall touch successively the right half court of server and receiver.
- From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
- As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension.
- It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.
- If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.
- Exceptionally, the umpire may relax the requirements for a correct service where he or she is satisfied that compliance is prevented by physical disability.
Returning rules in Table Tennis
- The ball, having been served or returned, shall be struck so that it touches the opponent's court, either directly or after touching the net assembly.
Order of play in Table Tennis
Lots of rules for table tennis have changed over the years. One rule that change recently is hitting the ball with your knuckles. They used to say that if the ball hit the hand that you were holding your paddle with it would constitute as a double hit. Now you’re allowed to get away with it as long as it was accidental.
Other than this one exception, double hits are not allowed and doing so will lose you the point. Hitting the ball with any other part of your body or any other object is not allowed either. In tournaments there are umpires that help determine if a foul has been made or not.
- In singles, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return and thereafter server and receiver alternately shall each make a return .
- In doubles the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return, the partner of the server shall then make a return, the partner of the receiver shall then make a return and thereafter each player in turn in that sequence shall make a return.
- In doubles, when at least one player of a pair is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return but thereafter either player of the disabled pair may make returns.
When is a let in Table Tennis?
The rally shall be a let:
- in service the ball touches the net assembly, provided the service is otherwise correct or the ball is obstructed by the receiver or his or her partner;
- the service is delivered when the receiving player or pair is not ready, provided that neither the receiver nor his or her partner attempts to strike the ball;
- failure to make a service or a return or otherwise to comply with the Laws is due to a disturbance outside the control of the player;
- play is interrupted by the umpire or assistant umpire;
- the receiver is in wheelchair owing to a physical disability and in service the ball, provided that the service is otherwise correct,
- after touching the receiver’s court returns in the direction of the net;
- comes to rest on the receiver's court;
- in singles leaves the receiver’s court after touching it by either of its sidelines
- Play may be interrupted
- to correct an error in the order of serving, receiving or ends;
- to introduce the expedite system;
- to warn or penalize a player or adviser;
- because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally.
What is a Score in Table Tennis?
To win the game you need to be the first player to get 11 points and to win by at least 2 points. A typical match in professional tournaments includes 7 games. During these games there are many ways that you can earn a point.
The basic way to win a play is by getting your opponent to not hit the ball after it hits their side of the table. Your ball must hit the table once before you are allowed to hit it back over the net. If it hits your side more than once you lose the point. If you fail to hit the other side of the table after hitting it over the net you lose the point.
Once a player has reached their 10th point, the serve is handed to their opponent because that’s the winning point. Remember that they must win by at least 2 points so they can go over the score of 11 points.
Unless the rally is a let, a player shall score a point if:
- an opponent fails to make a correct service;
- an opponent fails to make a correct return;
- after he or she has made a service or a return, the ball touches anything other than the net assembly before being struck by an opponent;
- the ball passes over his or her court or beyond his or her end line without touching his or her court, after being struck by an opponent;
- the ball, after being struck by an opponent, passes through the net or between the net and the net post or between the net and playing surface;
- an opponent obstructs the ball;
- an opponent deliberately strikes the ball twice in succession;
- an opponent, or anything an opponent wears or carries, moves the playing surface;
- an opponent, or anything an opponent wears or carries, touches the net assembly;
- if an opponent's free hand touches the playing surface;
- a doubles opponent strikes the ball out of the sequence established by the first server and first receiver;
- both players or pairs are in a wheelchair due to a physical disability and his or her opponent does not maintain a minimum contact with the seat or cushion(s), with the back of the thigh, when the ball is struck; his or her opponent touches the table with either hand before striking the ball; his or her opponent’s footrest or foot touches the floor during play.
- if, where an opposing doubles pair includes at least one player in a wheelchair, any part of the wheelchair or a foot of a standing player crosses an imaginary extension of the centre line of the table
What table tennis game?
- A game shall be won by the player or pair first scoring 11 points unless both players or pairs score 10 points, when the game shall be won by the first player or pair subsequently gaining a lead of 2 points.
What is a table tennis match?
- A match shall consist of the best of any odd number of games
What is the order of serving in table tennis?
- The right to choose the initial order of serving, receiving and ends shall be decided by lot and the winner may choose to serve or to receive first or to start at a particular end.
- When one player or pair has chosen to serve or to receive first or to start at a particular end, the other player or pair shall have the other choice.
- After each 2 points have been scored the receiving player or pair shall become the serving player or pair and so on until the end of the game, unless both players or pairs score 10 points or the expedite system is in operation, when the sequences of serving and receiving shall be the same but each player shall serve for only 1 point in turn.
- In each game of a doubles match, the pair having the right to serve first shall choose which of them will do so and in the first game of a match the receiving pair shall decide which of them will receive first; in subsequent games of the match, the first server having been chosen, the first receiver shall be the player who served to him or her in the preceding game.
- In doubles, at each change of service the previous receiver shall become the server and the partner of the previous server shall become the receiver.
- The player or pair serving first in a game shall receive first in the next game of the match and in the last possible game of a doubles match the pair due to receive next shall change their order of receiving when first one pair scores 5 points.
- The player or pair starting at one end in a game shall start at the other end in the next game of the match and in the last possible game of a match the players or pairs shall change ends when first one player or pair scores 5 points.
Out of order of serving, receiving or ends
- If a player serves or receives out of turn, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with those players serving and receiving who should be server and receiver respectively at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match and, in doubles, to the order of serving chosen by the pair having the right to serve first in the game during which the error is discovered.
- If the players have not changed ends when they should have done so, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with the players at the ends at which they should be at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match.
- In any circumstances, all points scored before the discovery of an error shall be reckoned.
Table And Other Equipment Regulations
Professional table tennis a lot of requirements on the dimensions, materials, and other things relating to the equipment, the ball included. It must have a circular diameter of 40 mm and weigh 2.7 grams. Can be made out of a white, orange, or matt celluloid or other approved plastics.
The table should be 9 ft long, 5 ft wide, and 2.5 ft tall (this may be different for wheelchair table tennis). It can be made out of any material as long as the ball bounces 9.1 in when dropped from a height of 11.8 in but must be a dark color to offset the light-colored ball.
The net includes the actual net, posts, and the clamps. It has to be 6 in tall off of the playing surface. The net needs to be as close as possible or touching the playing surface.
The racket has many regulations. It must be flat but can be any shape, size, or weight. Rubber on both sides of the paddle must be sandwiched rubber or pimpled rubber, must be consistent in thickness, and have one black and one red side.
Do Doubles Table Tennis Have Different Rule?
Playing doubles can be very different then playing with just a single. Different techniques need to be integrated to account for an extra person. However, there aren’t too many differences with the rules.
The main difference in rules is the way you serve. Servers must serve diagonally from the right side or the table to their opponents right side of the table. In tournaments, the team must hit the ball alternatively between partners which can be a very big challenge.
Did Tennis or Ping Pong Come First?
Tennis actually came before table tennis (ping pong). Table tennis was developed in the late 1800’s when outdoor tennis players missed playing the game during bad weather. It became a popular parlor game because you didn’t need much to play it.
Over time as it got more popular and spread all over the world, different table tennis organizations formed and international tournaments were being held. It became very popular to the middle-class but was still played and enjoyed by all.