A guide to the rules and scoring for table tennis at the Summer Olympics

Table tennis made its Olympic debut in 1988.
Table tennis made its Olympic debut in 1988.

Table tennis is considered one of the fastest sports in the world. It is possibly the only Olympic sport that demands the quickest transition from attack to defense and vice-versa.

Table tennis originated in Victorian England, in the form of after-dinner amusement for upper-class Victorians during the 19th century. It was granted status as an Olympic sport at the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988.

Unlike other sports, table tennis was never played as a demonstration sport at the Olympics. It is played across four Olympic events, including singles and doubles for men and women.

China has been by far the dominant factor in the sport since the late 1950s. They have won 24 out of 28 Olympic titles in table tennis. As many as three Chinese players have won four titles each.

Wang Nan remained as World No. 1 on the ITTF rankings list between 1999 and 2002.
Wang Nan remained as World No. 1 on the ITTF rankings list between 1999 and 2002.

The most successful table tennis player at the Olympics is Wang Nan from China who has pocketed four golds and one silver between 2000 and 2008. During the 1988 Summer Olympics, it is known that none of the top-five seeded players progressed to the semi-finals in the men's singles events.

Also Read: Should there be another Jan Ove Waldner to beat the Chinese in table tennis?

Rules for table tennis

The official rules for table tennis are reviewed by the world body, International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), every year.

The aim of the sport is to hit the ball over the net onto the opponent’s side of the court. A new point is scored if the opponent is unable to return the ball or hit the ball before it bounces twice on their side of the table.

Scoring rules in table tennis

The scoring system was changed from 21 points to 11 points back in 2001. Earlier, each player had five consecutive serves and deuce was at 20-20.

After 2001, the number of serves for each player has been restricted to two. The service now alternates between competitors until a player scores 11 points. However, if a deuce now arrives at 10-10, the service continues to change after each point, until any one player or team gains two points.

Also Read: India could have four singles paddlers at Tokyo Olympics 2021: Mudit Dani

How to serve in table tennis?

The rules of the sport have been altered several times in the past with regard to the service law. The basic serve in table tennis involves hitting the ball up straight from a flat palm.

As the ball falls, it should be hit with the paddle and should bounce twice, once each on the server's side and the opponent's side. If the ball bounces more than once on the opponent's side of the table, a new point is earned.

The ball must always be above the level of the table and behind the server's end line. If the ball touches the net in the center and goes on to bounce on the opponent's side, the service becomes invalid (known as let service) and should be replayed.

There are no penalties for let serves. However, if the ball does not bounce on the opponent's side after touching the net, the server would lose a point.

In doubles, the service continues to change after every two points between teams. Unlike singles, the ball should only bounce on the right side of the table for both the server and the opponent in doubles. At the end of every two points, the opponent becomes the server and the partner of the serving player becomes the receiver, for e.g., X1 to Y1 - Y1 to X2 - X2 to Y2 - Y2 to X1.

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Equipment for table tennis

According to the official rules, the proper dimensions of an approved table tennis table are 9 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet high. The height of the table tennis net should not exceed six inches.

The racket must be black on one side and any approved color on the other. The paddlers are allowed to use blue, green, violet, and pink rubber instead of the traditional red and black.

Also Read: ITTF rebranded to World Table Tennis: Here's all you need to know

Table tennis at the Olympics

Ma Long is the current Olympic and World Champion.
Ma Long is the current Olympic and World Champion.

China’s supremacy in table tennis is on a different level. They have swept the gold medal tally in the last three Summer Olympics. No country has even come close to its medal tally.

With 53 medals in their kitty, China has managed to win at least one medal in every event since 1992. As for China's dominance in the sport, few expect that to change at this year's Olympics. South Korea has also been consistently in the mix, claiming second spot with 18 medals.

Also Read: Paddle On: China's domination at Table Tennis

(With inputs from the official Olympic website)

Edited by Rohit Mishra
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