How to serve in table tennis

Beginning the game is an advantage in every game. The beginner leads the game and has the advantage to set the strategy. If you have more beginnings then, how to begin the game becomes more important. In Football you have 2 beginnings but in table tennis, you have one for each rally. So If you serve good enough, that puts you forward in the game. I will try to tell the serving rules and how to serve in table tennis.  

How to serve in table tennis? The Server must rise the ball up 16 cm with the palm of the free hand near vertically upwards, without any spin. Then the server strikes the ball while the ball is falling so that it touches first his/her court and then touches directly the receiver’s court.

I wish above 2 sentences would finalize everything related with the question “how to serve in table tennis”. Unfortunately, there are a few more details to explain. Let me list them below.

1. Open Palm

  • Just before tossing the ball for service, you have to place the ball on your palm of your free hand.
  • You should not grasp the ball in the hand or you should not hold it with your fingers.
  • One more important note is "the free hand should be stationary just before the service" which means you should not pick up the ball and toss it into the air immediately, without pausing to hold it free.

The main reason behind the above matters are; there is a potential that you can give an initial spin to the ball. And this is forbidden.

history… Finger spin serve, which gives a huge advantage to the server by giving a heavy spin on the ball, was very popular in the 1930s. The service rules changed many times in these years to prevent this situation.

Please find the related table tennis rules & regulations of the ITTF, that can be found in the ITTF Handbook of 2019

The service(2.6):
2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server’s stationary free hand.

2. 16cm Vertically Upwards

  • You should toss the ball vertically upwards without spin.
  • We mentioned the spin above, let me focus on "vertically upwards" words. So you are not allowed to throw the ball with an angle. It should go up, then down.
  • In the match between Bartosz Such and Robert Gardos, you can see in the GIF that Bartosz Such gives a huge angle which is forbidden by ITTF.
  • "vertically upwards" words mean a few degrees; not 30-40 degrees.
  • In this YouTube video you can find many similar faults. Samples for "how not to serve in table tennis"
  • The ball should rise 16cm from your palm, and should begin falling before you strike the ball.
  • You can not just drop the ball 16cm and hit it.
  • You should wait for the ball to begin falling but no need to wait for 16cm.

Please find the related table tennis rules & regulations of the ITTF, that can be found in the ITTF Handbook of 2019

The service(2.6):
2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

3. Your Court First

  • After you strike for the service, the ball should first contact your court.
  • Unlike the returns, services start with your court.
  • The white line in the middle of the table has no meaning for single playing. Also, there is some table without this line in the middle.
  • If you play doubles (2-player to 2-player), you should serve from your side to the opposite side of the table.
  • If you stand at the left side of the table(just like in the picture) and the second player with you on the right side, then after hitting the left side of your court, the ball should touch to the opposite side of opponents court(just like in the picture.

Please find the related table tennis rules & regulations of the ITTF, that can be found in the ITTF Handbook of 2019

The service(2.6):
2.6.3 As the ball is falling the server shall strike it so that it touches first his or her court and then touches directly the receiver’s court; in doubles, the ball shall touch successively the right half court of server and receiver.

4. not hidden & not on the table

  • You can not hide the ball
  • Do you remember the table tennis players serving weird? Here is why. As service is a very advantageous position, they try to hide the ball with their had, head, shoulder, etc. So that the opponent will not see the spin and where the ball is going.
  • You should use the service behind the server's end line.
  • (A)You can not strike over the table
  • (B)You can not place the ball over the table.
  • You can not hit the ball below the table surface level while striking for the service.
  • For example, you had the ball on your palm of your free hand. Then raised the ball more than 16cm, waited the ball to fall, waited, waited... Then hit the ball when it was below the table surface level. You made the mistake and lost the point.

Please find the related table tennis rules & regulations of the ITTF, that can be found in the ITTF Handbook of 2019.

The service(2.6):

2.6.4 From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server’s end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension.

2.6.6 It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.
2.6.6.1 If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.
2.6.7 Exceptionally, the umpire may relax the requirements for a correct service where he or she is satisfied that compliance is prevented by physical disability.

I explained all seven ITTF rules about the service in table tennis. I hope this helps to understand “how to serve in table tennis“.

Notice: Thanks for PingSkills and M Tordas YouTube Videos that I used for some Gifs.