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Table tennis

Table tennis, also known as Ping-Pong (that name is trademarked), is the second most played sport in the world as well as the newest of the world's major sports. Ping pong ball (乒乓球 pīngpāng qi˙) is the official name for the sport in China.


General description

Play is on a nine by five foot (2.7 m by 1.5 m) hard rectangular table with the surface usually painted green or dark blue. A 6 inch (15.25cm) tall net bisects along the short axis of the table and is strung to extend 6 inches (15.25cm) beyond the table on each side. The paddles, also known as bats or rackets, are usually about 15 cm across and made of rubber coated plywood, although the rules specify no particular size. The 40 mm diameter ball is hard, lightweight and made of cellulose. Play is fast and demands possibly the quickest reactions of any sport. A skilled player can impart spin to the ball which makes its bounce difficult to predict or return with confidence. The winner is usually the first to score 21 points although the International Rules were changed in 2001 to make the winning score 11 for international competition. The 21 point game is still widely played at recreational level.


Table tennis has its origins in England as an after dinner amusement for upper class Victorians in the 1880s. Mimicking the game of tennis in an indoor environment, everyday objects were originally enlisted to act as the equipment. A line of books would be the net, the top of a Champagne cork or knot of string as the ball, and a cigar box lid the paddle.

The popularity of this pastime led game manufacturers to sell the equipment commercially. Early paddles were often pieces of parchment stretched upon a frame and the sound generated in play gave the game its first nick names of "Whiff-Whaff" and "Ping-Pong";. A number of sources indicate that the game was first brought to the attention of Hamley's of Regent Street under the name "Cossima". The name Ping-Pong was in wide use before English manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd registered it as copyright in 1901. The name ping pong then came to be used for the game played by the rather expensive Jaques equipment with other manufacturers calling theirs table tennis. A similar situation came to exist in the United States where Jaques sold the rights to the Ping-Pong name to Parker Bros.

The next major innovation was that by James Gibb, an English enthusiast, who discovered novelty celluloid balls on a trip to the US in 1901 and found them ideal for the game.

This was followed by E.C. Goode who, in 1903, invented the modern version of the racket by fixing a sheet of pimpled, or stippled, rubber to the wooden blade.

Around 1901 table tennis tournaments were being organised, books were written, and an unofficial world championship was held in 1902.

It was not until 1921 that a Table Tennis Association was founded in England, and the International Table Tennis Federation followed in 1926. London hosted the first official world championship in 1927.

Around the end of 2000, the 40 mm size of the ball was officially adopted to replace the older 38.1 mm (1.50 inch) balls. This was done to increase the ball's air resistance, to compensate for the recent tendency to increase the thickness of the fast sponge layer on the bats, in an effort to slow the game down again, hopefully making it possible to view the ball unblurred on television.

Equipment and gameplay

The international rules specify that it is played with a light (2.7 gram), 40 mm diameter high-bouncing hollow celluloid ball, on a table 2.74 m (9 feet) long, 1.525 m (5 feet) wide, and 76 cm (30 inches) high with a masonite or similarly manufactured timber, coated with a low-friction, smooth coating. The table or playing surface is divided into two halves by a 15.25 cm (6 inch) high net. Players are equipped with a wooden racket (also called bat or paddle) covered with rubber. One side must be black, the other side red. Also your opponent may inspect your racket before playing.

When a game starts one player will hide the ball in one or the other hand allowing the other player to guess which hand the ball is in, the correct or incorrect guess gives the "winner" the option to serve first or have his opponent serve first. A player may optionally choose which side he will defend giving their opponent choice of serve. In recreational play, the two opponents "rally" for the right to serve, in which the ball must bounce upon the table at least three times and whomever is the person that does not make the mistake is the one to serve. In game play, a point is commenced by the player serving the ball by releasing the ball (behind and above the edge of the table) palm up and tossing it vertically without spin at least six inches and then hitting it such that it bounces once in the half of the court closest to him, then bounces at least one time in the opponent's half. The opponent must then make a "good" return—hit it back before the ball bounces a second time in such a way that it bounces first in the server's half (not bouncing in his own half) of the court. The players then alternate playing the ball and having it bounce on the opponent's side of the table until a player fails to make a good return.

Points are awarded for these errors in play: During Play

  • allowing the ball to bounce on one's own side twice
  • not hitting the ball after it has bounced on one's own side
  • having the ball bounce on one's own side after hitting it
  • double hitting the ball. Note that the hand below the wrist is considered part of the bat and making a good return off one's hand or fingers 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)
  • having the ball not bounce on the opponent's side after hitting it (making a "good" return)
  • failing to allow the ball to bounce once in one's own side— you are not allowed to volley the ball, that is, hitting the ball in mid-air over the playing surface.

Service Errors

  • offering and failing to make a good serve. That is making a service toss and failing to stike the ball fairly into play.
  • making an illegal serve (one deemed outside the rules—hiding the ball, etc.) A warning is usually offered on the first occurence, a point awarded subsequently.

Essentially a player must make a "good" return as described above. Failure to do so results in the other player being awarded the point. Serves alternate every two points (regardless of the winner) until a "deuce" game is required, then serve alternates after each point. Typically, games are played to 11 points and a player must win by at least a two point difference. Should each player reach 10 points a "duece" game comes into effect, players serve alternates after each point as mentioned above and the game is won by the player who scores two consecutive points. After each game, players switch sides of the table and in the 5th or 7th, 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. Before 2001, players alternated serves every 5 points and games would be played to 21 points and had to be won by at least 2 points. This is also true in recreational play. (especially when more than a few people are waiting to play.)

In addition to games between individual players, table tennis may also be played by pairs. In doubles all the rules of single play apply except for the following. The table is bisected by a line painted along the long axis of the table to create doubles courts. This line's only purpose is to facilitate the doubles service rule which is that service must originate from the right hand "box" in such a way that the first bounce of the serve bounces once in said right hand box and then must bounce at least once in the opponent side's right hand box (far left box for server). Play then continues normally with the exception that players must alternate hitting the ball. For example, after a player serves the receiving player make his or her return, the server's partner returns the ball and then the service receiver's partner would play the ball. The point proceeds this way until one side fails to make a legal return and the point is then awarded to the other team.

Singles and doubles are both played in international competition, including the Olympics.

Types of Shots

In table tennis, five basic types of shots are used, with more advanced strokes being used at higher levels. The basic shots include the loop, smash, flip, chop, and push. The loop is a shot that usually takes a relatively high flight path over the net, but still hits the table because of its topspin. A smash is a low, hard shot that is the mainstay of many modern table tennis players. A flip is a quick shot made with the wrist. A chop is a violent downward thrust of the paddle executed from behind or off to the side of the table with the intent to create backspin. A push is like a chop executed over the table, and is usually not very forceful.


While popular around the world at a recreational level, most of the world's best competitive players are from China, but several world champion titles have also gone to Sweden. The game is popular in Europe and Asia with some extraordinary players. Skilled players exhibit extraordinarily swift reaction times, footwork and body control. Also, bat construction and new rubber technology (skilled to elite players typically select and attach the rubber to their own bats and glue them before every match) contribute significantly to the amount of deviation from the expected ball flight path. The fairly recent development of special glue speeds up the departure of the ball from the rubber considerably; though, at the cost of some ball control. There also remains a sect of players who compete in "hardbat" competition, in which all competitors use a paddle with small pips-out rubber on each side of the blade with no sponge under the rubber.


  • Table tennis was introduced at the Olympics in 1988.
  • Table tennis inspired the first commercially successful video game, Pong.
  • In the 1970s the Chinese invited American table tennis players to a tournament in China. This marked a thawing in relations with the United States that was followed up by a visit by U.S. president Richard Nixon. The popular media therefore dubbed this visit "Ping Pong Diplomacy".
  • At the 1936 World Championships in Prague, two defensive players took over an hour to contest one point.
  • Table tennis was banned in the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1950 because authorities believed the sport was harmful to people's eyes.

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Last updated: 07-31-2005 00:09:35
Last updated: 08-18-2005 02:19:02