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Table tennis guide

Wang Hao in action
The Chinese are a dominant force in table tennis

Table tennis began in the 19th Century as an after-dinner parlour game for upper-class Victorians.

Back then, a cigar box lid was used to hit a rounded Champagne cork over books on the dining room table, but it has developed into an exciting, fast-paced sport with the ball travelling at speeds of up to 70mph.

Manufacturers began to make the equipment, with early rackets often nothing more than pieces of parchment stretched upon a frame, with the distinctive sound generated in play giving the game its first nicknames of 'Whiff-Whaff' and 'Ping-Pong'.

Table tennis made its Olympic debut in 1988 and its Commonwealth Games bow in 2002.


Table tennis competitions feature men's and women's singles and doubles, mixed doubles and team events. There are also events for elite athletes with a disabilty (EAD).

Matches are played in a best-of-five or seven-game format - games are played to 11 points and a player must hold a two-point margin to win the game.

To serve, a player must hold the ball, behind the edge of the table, in the palm of their hand and then throw it upwards, without spin, a minimum of six inches before hitting it so that it bounces once on their own side of the net and then again in the opponent's court.

As in tennis, if the ball hits the net and goes over and bounces in the opponent's court from a serve, a let is called and the point replayed.

Service alternates every two points regardless of who wins the point, and - in the final game of a match - when one player reaches five points, the players switch ends.

A point is awarded to your opponent if you hit the ball before it has bounced on your side of the net (unless it has already gone past the end of the table), hit the ball twice, hit the ball with anything other than your paddle, allow the ball to bounce twice on your side, return the ball so that it bounces on your side of the net and placing your hand on the table.

In doubles, the rules are the same as for singles play apart from two notable exceptions - the ball must be served diagonally from the server's right-hand court into the receiver's right-hand court and all four players hit the ball in rotation.

The men's and women's singles begin with a round-robin qualifying stage where athletes are divided into groups of three or four and the winner of each group progresses to the knockout phase.

The top 16 seeds, according to the world rankings at the time of the draw, are exempt from the qualifying stage.

The 48 qualifiers plus 16 seeds then begin a straight knockout phase until we have a winner.

Doubles matches are played on a straight knockout basis and all matches will be best of five games.

Team events are conducted in two phases: a round-robin qualifying stage, followed by a knockout format from the quarter-finals onwards.

The qualifying groups will each comprise four or five teams, with the top two in each group progressing to the quarter-finals.

Each match features a maximum five rubbers, with a team needing to win three for victory. All rubbers are singles matches and are played as the best of five games.

A team consists of three players per match; two of the players on a team play two rubbers, the third only one rubber.

Each nation can change its line-up between matches from a pool of up to five players.


If you want to get into table tennis, the chances are there's a club near you. The organisations listed below will help get you playing.

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see also
Olympic Dreams - On shoot with Drinkhall
24 Apr 08 |  London 2012
Olympic Dreams: Paul Drinkhall
21 Apr 08 |  London 2012

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