Ping Pong Serving Rules

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Ping Pong Serving Rules

International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has established and revised ping pong serving rules many times through the sport’s history. The more competitors manage to find ways to improve techniques, the ITTF changes the laws regarding service and decreases their effectiveness.

Many participants will state that this is an endless process. The main idea with changing the rules constantly is to increase the chances for the receiver to return the ball properly without any obstacles. In addition to this, stricter laws make the game more exciting to spectators. But one cannot deny that rules are needed, as they are in any other game.

The general set of rules refers to every single aspect of the game. This explains the precise measures and the look of the court and ball, net assembly, the order of services and so on. Here’s a brief retrospective of all rules regarding table tennis or ping pong service.

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How to initiate the service properly?

This one explains the position of the ball prior to actually throwing it. The rule clearly states that the ball should be positioned freely on the open palm of the server. This prevents the participant to impart the spin onto it while throwing it. That was actually very popular during the ‘30s, which is why the rule underwent changes to become more strict.

In order to avoid using this trick, these rules were reconsidered several times. So, the law clearly states the position of the ball. However, it actually gives no precise definition of the exact curvature of the free hand of the server.

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How to throw the ball upwards properly?

As the rule defines, the thrown ball should fly up approximately 6 inches (16cm) and when falling down but before being struck, it shouldn’t touch anything. So, this one clarifies that the ball falling from the vertical should be hit on the way down. Also, the judge is now clear of the direction where the ball should be tossed, not diagonally or sideways.

In addition to this, the ball needs to be thrown of hand, not lifting the shoulder up and then tossing it less than recommended height. As soon as the ball is tossed, it is actually in play. So whatever players do or don’t do will result in winning or losing the point.

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How to hit the ball?

Unlike what you can do in the regular game of tennis, ping pong serving rules clearly explain that the ball cannot be served overarm. If this is done, the service cannot be returned. After being struck, the ball initially touches the player’s part of the table, goes over the net, and then hits off the receiver’s court. If it is a doubles match, the ball successively strikes the right half parts of the table.

At the very beginning, the ball touches the rival’s side of the court at least once, and then you can serve it to and from any part of the table. However, in doubles, it always has to be diagonally right. If the rival fails to hit the ball after bouncing once, the point is yours, if it touches the net, the point has to be repeated.

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Why keep the ball above the playing surface?

The ball must be visible to the receiver every single moment. This means that the server (or partner, if playing doubles), must not hide the ball by anything that he/she wears or carries. If you take the playing surface as the benchmark, it has to be behind the end line and above the level. The opponent needs to have a clear view of the ball before hitting it.

To make the rule even stricter, there’s an additional amendment which states that the ball has to be visible all the time of the service. Therefore, as soon as the server projects the ball, he/she needs to remove free hand and arm from the playing surface. This gives the receiver enough time to “read” the spin and return service properly. The law was extended so that the opponent can see how much spin the server is imparting onto the ball.

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Each player takes responsibility for his/her service

In a nutshell, players need to act according to the rules so that any judge sees that the service was compliant. Otherwise, it can be labelled as incorrect. If players fail to do so, he/she ends up with a warning or gets penalized. Th umpire has the right to interrupt the match and warn the participant if he/she doubts that the service is illegal. Moreover, the judge has the right to give the opponent the point if your play is of questionable legality.

The only exception to the rules regarding responsible play is for those who have a certain physical disability. This applies not only to ping pong serving rules but to all other competitions as well.

As you can see, umpires play quite an important role in the game. They are authorized to determine whether the moves and the entire course of the game are in accordance with law. Both they and players need to be knowledgeable of all the rules so that each side would be clear what the right move to make is.

Besides warning the players during the game, umpires can do so between sessions as well. This informal advice gives players the chance to improve their service and avoid penalties or losing points. This means that the first illegal service doesn’t necessarily lead to punishment. However, continuous play in an illegal way even after several pieces of advice certainly does so.

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Final thoughts

As we said, the purpose of the rules in any team game is to give each of the players equal chances and fair course of the game. Here in our article, we put a special accent on all the occasions regarding service. But the whole set of rules includes every single aspect of the game.

As players get more and more skilful and witty in adjusting to the existing rules and turning them into their own favor, ping pong serving rules undergo constant changes. As time goes by, they will continue to change, adding more challenge for players and more excitement for the spectators.

About the Author Alberto Restrepo

I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and four children. Time with family is very important to me, so I started Gameroom Vault to help others find fun ways to spend time with their families at home.

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