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Spectator's Guide to Table Tennis
By Daniel Rutenberg – USATT Certified Coach
DFW Table Tennis (DFWTT)

Table Tennis
Table tennis made its debut as an Olympic sport in the 1988 games in Seoul, Korea.

Ping-pong vs. Table Tennis?
Both terms are correct. Perhaps we should call the serious sport table tennis, and the fun basement or game room past time version ping-pong.  It doesn’t really matter how you call it, but make sure you come out and play it in an organized facility or club to appreciate the many virtues of the fastest racket sport in the world. Did you know that table tennis is the second largest played sport around the world after soccer?

Where to play?
Here in the Metroplex there are many options to play table tennis.  However for information on organized table tennis please visit DFW Table Tennis (DFWTT) at www.dfwtt.com

General Rules

Rules & Regulations
Table tennis tournaments in the U.S. are conducted in accordance with USA Table Tennis (USATT) and with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) laws of table tennis in force at the time of the competition.

Table Tennis Balls
Usually are either white or orange. They are 40 mm in diameter and made from celluloid.   The ball can travel up to 90 miles an hour.

Are there rules on what equipment I may use?
Yes, you must use ITTF/USATT approved rackets and surfaces – but most rackets and surfaces are USATT approved, unless they are just recreational paddles. Two rules that first-timers are not always aware of is that sandpaper is illegal, and that the racket must be black on one side, red on the other. (The former damages the ball; the latter is so players can't use two very different surfaces and fool their opponent by flipping the racket.)

The player, or doubles team, who first scores 11 points wins the game.   However, you must win by two points so a game could go on longer before being decided.  A match is usually the best three out of five games. International and some championship matches are usually best four out of seven or even nine games.  However, in some tournaments, you may play two best out of three games.

What is the format for the various events?
The most common format of tournament events is an initial round robin of 3-5 players, with the winners of each group advancing to single elimination. Some events are single elimination from the start. There are singles, doubles and team events. Also, some events are organized based on rating, age, etc.

Is there a dress code?
Yes, but in general it's pretty lenient. Shirts and shorts (women may wear skirts), with the color not matching the ball's color. Most players wear warm-ups (unless it's hot), but remove them to play. Wear rubber-soled athletic shoes. You are not allowed to wear a hat, unless authorized by the tournament Referee.

How to win a point?

  • If your opponent fails to return your shot.  Your shot can hit the boundary lines (white lines) on your opponent's side or even the edge of the table.
  • If when attempting to serve or make a return, your opponent misses the ball or serves illegally.
  • If your opponent hits the ball into the net and it comes back to his/her side of the table.
  • If your opponent hits the ball wide or too far so the first bounce goes off the end or side of the table.
  • If your opponent hits the ball before it bounces on his/her side of the table.  No volleying is allowed.
  • If the ball bounces twice on your opponent's side of the table before he/she hits it. If your opponent moves the table, touches the table with free hand or touches the net during play.

Tournament Etiquette…

…Warming up
At most tournaments, all or most of the tables are used for matches. To warm up, you wait until a match is completed, and then that table is available for practice until another match is scheduled on it – so it's yours until two players with a match slip show up. If there is a shortage of tables to warm up on, players can practice four to a table, with each pair taking a diagonal and hitting corner to corner.

…Before the match
Be on time for your match – you have a schedule, so use it! It's not nice to keep an opponent waiting. When you meet your opponent at the control desk or at the table, it's customary to shake hands. Come ready to play – make sure to warm up with someone before going to the control desk for the match.

If it's a round robin event, then you'll be playing several other players. There should be a playing schedule on the round robin sheet – make sure to play in order, unless a player is missing. If a player is missing, let the control desk know, and then play the next match that can be played. After about 15 minutes, if a player doesn't show, the referee might default him.

Before the match begins, you are allowed to examine your opponent's racket to see what type of equipment he is using. Do not start a match without knowing what your opponent is using – inverted, short pips, long pips, antispin, hardbat, and all the possible combinations (since a racket has two surfaces). (If you do not know what these surfaces are, you need to ask an experienced player or coach about them. It's best to ask about it before you find out the hard way in a tournament match!)

Once you are at the table, you and your opponent are allowed to warm up for two minutes. It is customary during this time to hit “forehand to forehand” and “backhand to backhand,” corner to corner, to warm up and groove these two strokes. More advanced players may also warm up their “loop” (a heavy topspin shot).

Once either players are ready (or two minutes has passed), you have to figure out who serves first. By the rules, you flip a coin. In the great majority of matches, it is customary for one player to simply hide the ball in one hand under the table, and the other chooses which hand it is in. The winner gets choice of serving or sides, or may choose to let the other choose first. Then the other player gets to choice whatever is left (service order or sides).

…During the match
It is generally considered impolite to talk to an opponent during a match, except to clear up who serves, what the score is, or similar issues. If you know your opponent, or if he/she seems willing to talk, then of course that's up to the two of you.  Remember that you're not allowed to talk during a rally or ball in play.

During a match, some players become somewhat …animated. There's nothing wrong with being a bit high spirited, but do not go overboard and start screaming or (worse) swearing. Remember, it's only a game!

If you or your opponent has a coach during the match, note that coaching is only allowed between games and (in an umpired match) during a legal timeout. Also, only one person may coach a player during a match. If, by some chance, you and your opponent have a dispute of any sort, you need to call for the referee, who can make a ruling and/or assign an umpire for the match.   Go to the control desk and ask for a referee if you need one!

…After the match
Always shake hands. If your opponent had a coach, shake his hand as well. If you had an umpire for the match, shake his hand. When in doubt, shake everybody's hand!

Check to make sure the scores were written properly in the match slip, and then the winner returns it (along with the ball and pencil/pen) to the control desk. If it's just one match in the middle of a round robin, then you have to wait until all matches are played before the group's winner returns it to the control desk.

Make sure to find out early on when the big matches will be played. You do not want to miss them! This is your chance to see how the “better players” play. You should be relatively quiet during points, but cheer your head off after the point is over, especially if it was a great point. Never boo – it’s considered in poor taste in table tennis.

Common Terms
Attacker - A type of player who attempts to loop or smash as many balls as possible, overpowering an opponent.

Blade - A paddle or racquet without any covering.

Block - Used to return an attack shot.  The racquet is held in front of the ball with little movement before contact.

Chop - Used to create underspin.  The shot is executed by slicing underneath and grazing the bottom or back of the ball.

Defender - This player pushes, chops, blocks, and tries to force his/her opponent into making a mistake.  Defenders rely on their ability to return every ball and wearing down an opponent.

Third Ball Attack - Begins with a serve, an opponent's return, and an attack of the opponent's return.

Fifth Ball Attack - Begins with a serve, an opponent's return, a loop or strategically placed drive, an opponent's return, and ends with a point-winning put away.

Hardbat - Also called "Classic Table Tennis"; players are required to use paddles covered only with short-pimpled rubber, without sponge. Proponents claim that the reduced spin produces longer rallies balancing offense and defense.

Hit - A slower version of a smash.

Let - A rally in which play stops and the point is not scored.

Let Serve - When the serve hits the net and lands on the opponent's side.  Players serve again. It is often incorrectly called a net serve.

Loop - A long sweeping upward stroke that just grazes the top half of the ball to create tremendous topspin.  A good loop goes nearly straight up if it strikes a vertical paddle, and is used as a rallying shot, to set up a smash, or as a put away shot itself.

Penhold - This grip generally gives the player the best forehand, but a weaker backhand.  Popular in Asia, the racquet is held as if you were holding a pen, with the racquet tip pointing mostly downward.

Pips In - A smooth rubber surface on the racquet face.

Pips Out - A rubber surface on the racquet covered with bumps or dimples.

Rally - When the ball is in play.

Smash - The fastest shot in table tennis and almost impossible to return, a smash averages 60 mph and reaches upwards of 100 mph.

Serve - Used to put the ball into play.  Each player alternately serves two points until a player scores 11 points. If the score reaches 10-10, then the game shall be won by the first player to take a two-point lead. 

Shakehands - The most popular grip in the world, it is held by basically shaking hands with the racquet.  This grip generally gives the best balance of forehand and backhand shots.

Table - Nine feet in length and five feet in width.  It is supported so that the upper surface, termed the playing surface, is lying on a horizontal plane two feet, six inches above the floor.


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