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Table Tennis Service Rules

The table tennis service rules set out how you must serve in a match.
Watch my video and see how to serve legally.

Basic table tennis serve by courtesy of the ITTF

The service in table tennis is the starting point for every rally, so it's important that you know the table tennis service rules so that you know how to serve legally.

However, the service rules are very complex and are a constant cause of debate and argument. But at a basic, beginners level, there are just a few things you need to know.

So, if you want to play in accordance with the rules, let's take a closer look at the rules for the basic serve.

(A more in depth look at the service rules can be found here)

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Behind End Line

Firstly, you need to make sure that the ball is behind your white end line at all times.

For this purpose, the white end line on the table extends indefinitely in both directions.

This means that you can't go around the side of the table to serve - you have to be behind the white line.

The ball also has to be above the level of the table surface at all times and be visible to your opponent.


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Ball Resting Freely

To start your serve you need to make sure that the ball is resting on the open palm of your free hand.

It must be resting on your open palm and not on your fingers. This is so that you cannot impart any spin onto the ball with your hand or fingers.


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Throw Ball Vertically

Then you need to throw the ball vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6 inches) after leaving the palm of your hand.

You can't throw it sideways or backwards. It's got to be straight up and at least 16cm (6 inches) - which for easy reference is the same height as the net.

You can throw the ball up higher than 16cm (6 inches) if you want to, but that is the minimum it must rise after leaving the palm of your hand.

Also, as soon as you have deliberately thrown the ball up, it is in play. So if you miss the ball, or it doesn't hit the table, you lose the point.


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Hit Ball When Dropping

Then you must wait for the ball to drop before you hit it.

You can't hit the ball whilst it's still rising.

As the ball is falling you must hit it so that it hits your side of the table first, then goes over the net and hits your opponent's side of the table.


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Bounce On Both Sides

Although the ball has to bounce once on your side of the table, it can bounce any number of times on your opponent's side of the table. Of course, if your opponent doesn't hit the ball before it bounces twice on his side, he will lose the point.

You can serve the ball to anywhere on the table in singles, but only to and from the right half of the table when playing doubles.


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Ball Hitting Net

If the ball touches the net while passing over it, and providing that the service is good in all other respects, the rally is a let and the service is replayed.


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Responsibility

It is your responsibility to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that you have complied with all these requirements.

If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of your service they MAY, on the first occasion in a match, warn you. But any subsequent service by you which is not clearly legal will be faulted, and you'll lose the point.


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Table Tennis Service Rules Video

So let's take a look at a video explanation of the basic table tennis service rules.

(If you have problems with the sound, there are captions/subtitles that you can turn on. Just click on the captions/subtitles button)

So let's take a look at a video explanation of the basic table tennis service rules.

(If you have problems with the sound, there are captions/subtitles that you can turn on. Just click on the captions/subtitles button)

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Improve Your Service

If you're serious about your table tennis and you want to take your game to the next level, take a look at this.

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