Table tennis history, rules, scoring system and equipment


Table tennis, also known as ping pong, is one of the most popular sports in the world.

Its popularity is mainly due to the fact that most people play only for fun, not as a physical activity. The practice takes place in schools, clubs, houses, and even in some offices, like here in Leegues!

To get to know table tennis better, let’s go through its history, rules, scores, equipment used and some interesting facts about it.

Table Tennis History

The beginning of table tennis

Table tennis started being practiced in the beginning of the 19th century, in England, originated from an imitation of indoor tennis. After dinner some upper middle class Englishmen turned the table into mini versions of a tennis court. Various objects were used as equipment:

  • The net was replaced by a row of books
  • The ball could be a champagne cork or a rubber ball
  • A cigar box lids as a racket

Another version says that around 1880 tennis players from an English club improvised the game due to bad weather. They used a pool table, with books as rackets, a string as a net and a traditional tennis ball.


At that time the sport was called by different names. Whif whaf and flim flam were some of them, due to the noise of the ball hitting the table and the racket afterwards. In 1901 an English company, J. Jaques & Son Ltd, registered the rights to the name ping pong, which ended up establishing itself as the most popular.

In 1920 the sport became a registered trademark in Europe, receiving the official name of table tennis. Today the name ping-pong is still widely used for recreational purposes.

The expansion of table tennis

In the early 1920s, table tennis began to spread across Europe and United States. Countries like China, Korea and Japan learned the game from the English army’s military on duty in these countries.

In 1926, the International Tennis Table Federation (ITTF) was created in Berlin. The federation included countries like England, Sweden, Hungary, India, Denmark, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Wales. The ITTF instituted objective rules and started promoting championships, that were dominated mainly by Europeans.

The use of rubber in the racket started in 1960, allowing players to hit with more speed and spin. This technology fundamentally changed the technical part of the sport. In addition to that, there was also a huge growth of players in Asian countries.

For the next 5 years, the Japanese were the main world champions, then passed the title to the Chinese. From the late 1980s until the early 1990s, Europeans predominated. Especially the Swedes, who broke the Chinese domination in the sport.

Table tennis is the second most popular sport in China, which has about 10 million federated players. Worldwide, there are an estimated 300 million occasional players.

World Championships and Table Tennis in the Olympics

The first World Table Tennis Championship was held in 1927, in London. It was disputed, almost always, annually, until 1957. Exceptions were 1927 and the years between 1940 and 1946, during World War 2.

Since 1957 the World Cups have been played every two years and after 2003 singles and doubles categories have been disputed separately from the teams category. The singles and doubles world championships are played in odd years and the team world championships are played in even years.

In 1977 table tennis was recognized by the International Olympic Committee and, 4 years later, the sport was accepted in the Olympics program. The first Olympic games with table tennis was in 1988 in Seoul. To date, of the 28 gold medals distributed, 24 have been won by China.

Since Beijing Olympics in 2008, doubles have been replaced by teams.

Table tennis rules

Playing area

The playing area must be 14m long, 7m wide and 5m high. It must be surrounded by separators, known as “sideboards”. They are up to 1.5m long and 0.75m high.

It is important that there is nothing shiny on the floor, walls or ceiling, that could confuse players’ during the match.

9 Basic table tennis rules

  1. Table tennis matches are played with two or four players, singles or doubles.
  2. An official match must have a main referee, with the support of an auxiliary referee to make certain decisions.
  3. The goal of the game is to score points, which happens when the opponent sends the ball off the table, to the net, or when he does not reach the ball on his side of the table.
  4. Before starting each match, rackets must be checked by the referees and the opposing players.
  5. There is a draw to decide who starts serving. The server is alternated every 2 points, regardless of the score.
  6. In doubles, the order is alternated between doubles and players, thus ensuring that all four players have to serve. Each player has the right to serve twice in a row.
  7. The ball can only bounce once on each side of the table. When serving, the ball must touch once in each half of the table, otherwise, the server loses the point.
  8. The point is considered started right after the ball leaves the player’s hand in the beginning of the serve.
  9. An obstruction occurs when the player or anything he carries or wears, touches the ball during a point.

Scoring rules in table tennis

The match is always played in the best of any odd number of sets. Generally, national tournaments work with the best of 5 sets format, while international tournaments use best of 7 sets. The player needs 3 sets to win a best of 5 sets match, or 4 to wins in a best of 7 sets match. Each set consists of 11 points.

The set is won by whoever makes the 11 points first, as long as there is a 2 point advantage. In the event of a 10-10 tie, the set goes on until one of the players get a 2 point advantage.

After at least 10 minutes of the beginning of a match, or at the request of one of the players, if none of them reached 9 points, the “acceleration system” can activated, where one of the referees starts counting players’ strokes. On each serve, if the receiver makes 13 good hits, he wins the point.

Serving rules

Before serving, players must rest the ball on their open hand, so the opponent and referees can see it. Then it is thrown vertically, at least 16 cm above the resting position, after which the server must hit the ball aiming to touch his side of the table and then the opponent’s side.

The cross-court serve is only obligatory in doubles, when the ball needs to touch the right side of the server’s table and then the right side of the receiver’s table.

If, after touching the server’s table, the ball touches the net before touching the receiver’s table, an obstruction is characterized. In this case, the player must repeat the serve, with no bonus for any of the players. The number of serving obstructions is unlimited. Players can serve until the serve is considered good or until it is an actual miss.

The server loses the point if, when serving:

  • touches the table
  • passes the ball directly to the opponent’s side, without it touching his side of the table
  • hit the ball straight to the net
  • speak or shout during the serve
  • throw the ball too high or too low

Table Tennis main equipment


The table size is 2.74m long and 1.45m wide. Its height should be 76cm from the floor. The surface can be of any material, as long as it produces a uniform ball bounce of around 23cm when launched from a 30cm height.

table tennis

The color of the table should be dark and matte, with white lines 2cm wide along the side edges and the bottom lines. The table must have a central line of 3cm wide that divides each side in two parts, to allow doubles matches.


The table tennis net measures 1.83m long and 15.25cm high.


85% of the racket material is natural wood.

The part that hits the ball is covered by a rubber with pins outward with a maximum thickness of 2 mm or a rubber type “sandwich” with pins inwards or outwards with a maximum thickness of 4 mm.

This cover should not extend beyond the limits of the racket blade. It should also not be short enough to allow the ball to hit the racket’s wood directly.

The color be matte, with bright red on one side and black on the other. Even if one side has no cover, these colors must be applied to each side of the racket.


The ball used in table tennis is made of celluloid or similar plastic material, with a 40mm diameter. Its ideal weight is 2.74g and its color should be white or matte orange.

This 40mm diameter started being used in 2000, at the Sydney Olympic Games. Until then, the balls used in matches had a 38mm diameter, which gave them more speed.

Interesting facts about table tennis

  • Table tennis is the racket sport where the ball reaches the highest speed
  • It is also the one where you can get most spin on the ball
  • The net was so high at the beginning of the sport that at the 1936 world championships in Prague, only one point between two players lasted more than an hour. After this episode, the net height rules were changed. They lowered their height in order to increase the speed of the game.
  • China’s popularity in table tennis is due to the spread promoted by Mao Tse-Tung. He adapted the sport to small spaces, ideal for the most populous country in the world.
  • In 1971 the United States table tennis team was invited, with all travel expenses paid, to play in China. These athletes were the first Americans to enter China since 1949.

Useful links for sports players, coaches and tournament organizers:

International Table Tennis Federation

Online software to manage table tennis tournaments and leagues – 100% Free


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