History of Table Tennis

Table tennis, also known as ping-pong, is the second most popular game in the world as well as the newest of the world’s major sports. Ping-pong ball is the official name for the sport in China.

Table tennis includes both individual and team events. Depending on sex, table tennis has singles, doubles, mixed doubles, and team disciplines.

In the Olympic Games, table tennis includes four disciplines: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, and women’s doubles.

At the Olympics, athletes compete against each other according to a knockout system. Each match consists of a maximum of seven sets. The athlete who wins four sets first is the winner.

The game is played on a hard nine-by-five-feet rectangular table with the surface usually painted green or dark blue. A miniature tennis net cuts the table into half and is strung to extend a few centimeters beyond the table on each side. The paddles, also known as rackets or bats, are normally about 15 centimeters across and made of rubber-coated plywood, although the rules do not actually specify a particular size. The 40 millimeter diameter ball is hard, lightweight, and made of cellulose. Play is fast and demands the fastest possible reaction time 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.

The game is started by one player tossing up the ball, and then hiding the caught ball under the table, the other player must 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 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 at least six inches, and then hitting it, such that it bounces in the half of the court closest to him, then in the opponent’s half. The opponent must then hit it back so that it bounces in the server’s half (not bouncing in his own half), and then the players alternate playing the ball and having it bounce on the opponent’s side of the table until one makes an error. Errors can be:

  • 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
  • having the ball not bounce on the opponent’s side after hitting it (unless the opponent hit the ball before it bounced), and/or
  • failing to allow the ball to bounce once in one’s own side—you are not allowed to hit the ball in mid-air over the playing surface before it hits your side of the table.

The other player is then awarded one point. Serves are alternated every two points (regardless of the winner) and still through “deuce” play for the game. Typically, games are played to 11 points, and a player must win by at least a two-point difference. 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 five 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 five points and games would be played to 21 points and had to be won by at least two points.

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