Table tennis facts for kids

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Table tennis
Mondial Ping - Men's Singles - Round 4 - Kenta Matsudaira-Vladimir Samsonov - 57.jpg
Table tennis at the highest level
Highest governing body ITTF
First played 1880s Victorian England
Characteristics
Contact No
Team members Single or doubles
Type Racquet sport, indoor
Equipment Poly, 40 mm (1.57 in),
2.7 g (0.095 oz)
Glossary Glossary of table tennis
Presence
Olympic Since 1988
Paralympic Since inaugural 1960 Summer Paralympics

Table tennis, also known as Ping Pong (a trademarked name), is one of the most popular sports in the world, with players in many countries. It is played by two or four people on a table. To play this game, people use bats and small celluloid balls. You need also a net and a table. Table tennis was invented in England in 1880.

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the worldwide organization, was founded in 1926. Table tennis has been an Olympic sport since 1988. Many of the best players in the world today come from China.

  • 乒乓球 (Ping Pang Qiu) is the official name for the sport in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
  • 卓球 (Takkyu) is the official name for the sport in Japan.

Equipment

Ball

TT Plastic ball 40+ ITTF V1
Table Tennis Plastic Balls 40+ mm with ITTF approval

The international rules specify that the game is played with a sphere having a mass of 2.7 grams (0.095 oz) and a diameter of 40 millimetres (1.57 in). The rules say that the ball shall bounce up 24–26 cm (9.4–10.2 in) when dropped from a height of 30.5 cm (12.0 in) onto a standard steel block thereby having a coefficient of restitution of 0.89 to 0.92. Balls are now made of a polymer instead of celluloid as of 2015, colored white or orange, with a matte finish. The choice of ball color is made according to the table color and its surroundings. For example, a white ball is easier to see on a green or blue table than it is on a grey table. Manufacturers often indicate the quality of the ball with a star rating system, usually from one to three, three being the highest grade. As this system is not standard across manufacturers, the only way a ball may be used in official competition is upon ITTF approval (the ITTF approval can be seen printed on the ball).

The 40 mm ball was introduced after the end of the 2000 Summer Olympics. This created some controversies. Then World No 1 table tennis professional Vladimir Samsonov threatened to pull out of the World Cup, which was scheduled to debut the new regulation ball on October 12, 2000.

Table

Table Tennis Table Blue
Diagram of a table tennis table showing the official dimensions

The table is 2.74 m (9.0 ft) long, 1.525 m (5.0 ft) wide, and 76 cm (2.5 ft) high with any continuous material so long as the table yields a uniform bounce of about 23 cm (9.1 in) when a standard ball is dropped onto it from a height of 30 cm (11.8 in), or about 77%. The table or playing surface is uniformly dark coloured and matte, divided into two halves by a net at 15.25 cm (6.0 in) in height. The ITTF approves only wooden tables or their derivates. Concrete tables with a steel net or a solid concrete partition are sometimes available in outside public spaces, such as parks.

Racket/paddle

Players are equipped with a laminated wooden racket covered with rubber on one or two sides depending on the grip of the player. The ITTF uses the term "racket", though "bat" is common in Britain, and "paddle" in the U.S. and Canada.

The wooden portion of the racket, often referred to as the "blade", commonly features anywhere between one and seven plies of wood, though cork, glass fiber, carbon fiber, aluminum fiber, and Kevlar are sometimes used. According to the ITTF regulations, at least 85% of the blade by thickness shall be of natural wood. Common wood types include balsa, limba, and cypress or "hinoki", which is popular in Japan. The average size of the blade is about 17 centimetres (6.7 in) long and 15 centimetres (5.9 in) wide, although the official restrictions only focus on the flatness and rigidity of the blade itself, these dimensions are optimal for most play styles.

Table tennis regulations allow different surfaces on each side of the racket. Various types of surfaces provide various levels of spin or speed, and in some cases they nullify spin. For example, a player may have a rubber that provides much spin on one side of their racket, and one that provides no spin on the other. By flipping the racket in play, different types of returns are possible. To help a player distinguish between the rubber used by his opposing player, international rules specify that one side must be red while the other side must be black. The player has the right to inspect their opponent's racket before a match to see the type of rubber used and what colour it is. Despite high speed play and rapid exchanges, a player can see clearly what side of the racket was used to hit the ball. Current rules state that, unless damaged in play, the racket cannot be exchanged for another racket at any time during a match.

Gameplay

Competitive table tennis
Competitive table tennis

Starting a game

According to ITTF rule 2.13.1, the first service is decided by lot, normally a coin toss. It is also 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. (A common but non-sanctioned method is for the players to play the ball back and forth three times and then play out the point. This is commonly referred to as "serve to play", "rally to serve", "play for serve", or "volley for serve".)

Service and return

Alexander Shibayev
Service by professional Russian player Alexander Shibaev

In game play, the player serving the ball commences a play. The server first stands with the ball held on the open palm of the hand not carrying the paddle, called the freehand, and tosses the ball directly upward without spin, at least 16 cm (6.3 in) high. The server strikes the ball with the racket on the ball's descent so that it touches first his court and then touches directly the receiver's court without touching the net assembly. In casual 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 upper surface of the table, known as the playing surface, at all times during the service. The server cannot use his/her 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 umpire is doubtful of the legality of a service they may first interrupt play and give a warning to the server. If the serve is a clear failure or is doubted again by the umpire after the warning, the receiver scores a point.

If the service is "good", then the receiver must make a "good" return by hitting the ball back before it bounces a second time on receiver's side of the table so that the ball passes the net and touches the opponent's court, either directly or after touching the net assembly. Thereafter, the server and receiver must alternately make a return until the rally is over. 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.

Let

A Let is a rally of which the result is not scored, and is called in the following circumstances:

  • The ball touches the net in service (service), provided the service is otherwise correct or the ball is obstructed by the player on the receiving side. Obstruction means a player touches the ball when it is above or traveling towards the playing surface, not having touched the player's court since last being struck by the player.
  • When the player on the receiving side is not ready and the service is delivered.
  • Player's failure to make a service or a return or to comply with the Laws is due to a disturbance outside the control of the player.
  • Play is interrupted by the umpire or assistant umpire.

A let is also called foul service, if the ball hits the server's side of the table, if the ball does not pass further than the edge and if the ball hits the table edge and hits the net.

Scoring

Table tennis umpire
Table tennis umpire

A point is scored by the player for any of several results of the rally:

  • The opponent fails to make a correct service or return.
  • After making a service or a return, the ball touches anything other than the net assembly before being struck by the opponent.
  • The ball passes over the player's court or beyond their end line without touching their court, after being struck by the opponent.
  • The opponent obstructs the ball.
  • The opponent strikes the ball twice successively. Note that the hand that is holding the racket counts as part of the racket and that making a good return off one's hand or fingers is allowed. It is not a fault if the ball accidentally hits one's hand or fingers and then subsequently hits the racket.
  • The opponent strikes the ball with a side of the racket blade whose surface is not covered with rubber.
  • The opponent moves the playing surface or touches the net assembly.
  • The opponent's free hand touches the playing surface.
  • As a receiver under the expedite system, completing 13 returns in a rally.
  • The opponent that has been warned by the umpire commits a second offense in the same individual match or team match. If the third offence happens, 2 points will be given to the player. If the individual match or the team match has not ended, any unused penalty points can be transferred to the next game of that match.

A game shall be won by the player first scoring 11 points unless both players score 10 points, when the game shall be won by the first player subsequently gaining a lead of 2 points. A match shall consist of the best of any odd number of games. In competition play, matches are typically best of five or seven games.

Alternation of services and ends

Service alternates between opponents every two points (regardless of winner of the rally) until the end of the game, unless both players score ten points or the expedite system is operated, when the sequences of serving and receiving stay the same but each player serves for only one point in turn (Deuce). The player serving first in a game receives first in the next game of the match.

After each game, players switch sides of the table. In the last possible game of a match, for example the seventh game in a best of seven matches, players change ends when the first player scores five points, regardless of whose turn it is to serve. If the sequence of serving and receiving is out of turn or the ends are not changed, points scored in the wrong situation are still calculated and the game shall be resumed with the order at the score that has been reached.

Doubles game

Service en double (tennis de table)
Service zone in doubles game

In addition to games between individual players, pairs may also play table tennis. Singles and doubles are both played in international competition, including the Olympic Games since 1988 and the Commonwealth Games since 2002. In 2005, the ITTF announced that doubles table tennis only was featured as a part of team events in the 2008 Olympics.

In doubles, all the rules of single play are applied except for the following.

Service

A line painted along the long axis of the table to create doubles courts bisects the table. 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), or the receiving pair score a point.

Order of play, serving and receiving

  1. Players must hit the ball in turn. For example, if A is paired with B, X is paired with Y, A is the server and X is the receiver. The order of play shall be A→X→B→Y. The rally proceeds this way until one side fails to make a legal return and the other side scores.
  2. At each change of service, the previous receiver shall become the server and the partner of the previous server shall become the receiver. For example, if the previous order of play is A→X→B→Y, the order becomes X→B→Y→A after the change of service.
  3. In the second or the latter games of a match, the game begins in reverse order of play. For example, if the order of play is A→X→B→Y at beginning of the first game, the order begins with X→A→Y→B or Y→B→X→A in the second game depending on either X or Y being chosen as the first server of the game. That means the first receiver of the game is the player who served to the first server of the game in the preceding game. In each game of a doubles match, the pair having the right to serve first shall choose which of them will do so. The receiving pair, however, can only choose in the first game of the match.
  4. When a pair reaches 5 points in the final game, the pairs must switch ends of the table and change the receiver to reverse the order of play. For example, when the last order of play before a pair score 5 points in the final game is A→X→B→Y, the order after change shall be A→Y→B→X if A still has the second serve. Otherwise, X is the next server and the order becomes X→A→Y→B.

Expedite system

If a game is unfinished after 10 minutes' play and fewer than 18 points have been scored, the expedite system is initiated. The umpire interrupts the game, and the game resumes with players serving for one point in turn. If the expedite system is introduced while the ball is not in play, the previous receiver shall serve first. Under the expedite system, the server must win the point before the opponent makes 13 consecutive returns or the point goes to the opponent. The system can also be initiated at any time at the request of both players or pairs. Once introduced, the expedite system remains in force until the end of the match. A rule to shorten the time of a match, it is mainly seen in defensive players' games.

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Table tennis Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.