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Table Tennis Rules and How to Play Table Tennis
Table Tennis Explained

The game is played with two or four players hitting a ball with rackets back and forth to each other on a table, in a manner similar to tennis. The rules are slightly different, but the concept is very similar. In singles play, the serve is not required to cross from the server's right-hand court to the receiver's right-hand court (or left to left) as it is in tennis. However, serving across is required in doubles play. Ball spin, speed, placement, strategy and tactics play an important part in competitive table tennis matches. The speed of the ball can vary from slow serves with much spin to smashes that travel as fast as 112.5 kilometers per hour (70 mph).

The game is played on a 274 cm 152.5 cm 76 cm high (9 ft 5 ft 30 inches high) table.

The International Table Tennis Federation requires a total playing area not less than 14 m long, 7 m wide and 5 m high for competitions. No limitations in size or shape are specified. You cannot win on a let. It is counted as a redo.

Modern rackets are usually covered with a thin layer of rubber on the racket's striking surface. The rubber may have pimples pointing outwards or inwards, as well as a thin layer of sponge between the wood center and the rubber surface. Since spin plays a large role in the modern sport of table tennis, the composition of the rubber and the combination of sponge and rubber is designed to maximize the amount of spin and speed a player can impart onto the ball. Other technological improvements include the use of carbon or other synthetic layers as part of the blade to increase the size of the sweet spot or the stiffness of the blade.

The ball used in table tennis has a diameter of 40 mm (formerly 38 mm), is made of celluloid, and is hollow. A three star rating on a ball usually implies a top quality ball, in relation to its bounce, roundness and their respective consistency between balls of the same make and type.

The winner is the first to score 11 points or more while being ahead by 2 points or more. Players alternate serves every two points. At 10-10 (or deuce) the players alternate with every serve; the winner is then the first person to gain a two point advantage over his opponent. The 11 point game is an International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) change which occurred in 2001. Previously, the first player to gain 21 points (except in case of a deuce, handled as described above) won the game. All games played at national level and at international tournaments (ITTF) are now played to 11 points in either a best of five (5) games (preliminaries) or best of seven (7) games format (championship matches).

How To Play Table Tennis

Starting a game
In top-flight competition, service is decided by a coin toss. At lower levels it is common for one player (or the umpire/scorer) to hide the ball in one or the other hand (usually hidden under the table), allowing the other player to guess which hand the ball is in. The correct or incorrect guess gives the "winner" the option to choose to serve, receive, or to choose which side of the table to use. Another method is for one player to hit the ball to the other and he or she returns it or by hitting it back and forth four times and then playing out the point. This is commonly referred to as "play to serve". Then, they play one point to see who serves first. Players also determine the first to serve by placing a racket on the table with the handle off the board, taking turns throwing the ball at their opponent's racket. The first to strike the opponent's racket without receiving a return shot gets the serve.

Service

In game play, the player serving the ball commences a point. The player stands with the ball held in the palm of the freehand, with the hand behind the endline of the table and higher than the surface of the table. The racket is held in the other hand, the racket hand, and the server tosses the ball directly upward without spin, at least 16 centimeters (approximately 6 inches) high, and strikes the ball with the racket on the ball's descent. In casual (non-tournament) games, many players do not toss the ball upward, however this is technically illegal and can give the serving player an unfair advantage. The ball must remain behind the endline and above the height of the table at all times during the service. The server cannot use his body or clothing to obstruct sight of the ball; the opponent and the umpire must have a clear view of the ball at all times, if the ball is interfered with in any way the players must replay the point.

The server must strike the ball such that it bounces once on his or her half of the table, and then bounces at least one time on the opponent's half. If the ball strikes the net but does not strike the opponent's half of the table, then a point is awarded to the opponent. However, if the ball hits the net, but nevertheless goes over and bounces on the other side, it is called a let (or net-in). Play stops, and the ball must be served again with maximum three hits.

If the service is "good", then the receiver must make a "good" return by hitting the ball back over the net after it bounces once on their side of the table, but before it bounces a second time. Returning the serve is one of the most difficult parts of the game, as the server's first move is often the least predictable and thus most advantageous shot due to the numerous spin and speed choices at his or her disposal.

Hitting The Ball

Points are awarded to the opponent for any of several errors in play:[3]

  • Allowing the ball to bounce on one's own side more than once.
  • Double hitting the ball. Note that the hand below the wrist is considered part of the racket and making a good return off one's hand or fingers on the racket-holding hand is allowed, but hitting one's hand or fingers and subsequently hitting the racket is a double strike and an error.
  • Allowing the ball to strike anything other than the racket (see above for definition of the racket)
  • Causing the ball not to bounce on the opponent's half (i.e., not making a "good" return)
  • Placing one's free hand on the playing surface or moving the playing surface
  • Offering and failing to make a good serve (i.e., making a service toss and failing to strike the ball fairly into play)
  • Making an illegal serve: (e.g., one preceded by a player's hiding the ball or his failing to toss the ball at least 16 centimeters (six inches) in the air).
  • Hitting the net with racket or any body part.
  • By volleying the ball (not allowing the ball to bounce on your side)
  • The ball is considered out of bounds if: It touches a wall, ceiling, the opponent's body, or is stopped by the opponents racket.

    Alternation of service

    Service alternates between opponents every two points (regardless of winner of the rally) until a player reaches 11 points with at least a two-point lead, or until both players have 10 points a piece. If both players reach 10 points, then service alternates after each point, until one player gains a two-point advantage. This is the currently used standard followed by the ITTF.[4]

    In doubles, service alternates every two points between sides, but also rotates between players on the same team. At the end of every two points, the receiving player becomes the server, and the partner of the serving player becomes the receiver.

    In the 21-point game system, service would alternate every 5 points. If both players reached a score of 20, then service would alternate each point until one player gains a two-point advantage.

    Series of games

    After each game, players switch sides of the table and in the fifth or seventh, game "for the match", players switch sides when the first player scores 5 points, regardless of whose turn it is to serve. In competition play, matches are typically best of five or seven games.
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