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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.
Related: Beginner’s Guide to Ping Pong
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.
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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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.
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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