Table tennis, sometimes known as "ping pong" is a miniaturized version of outdoor or lawn tennis. A dynamic indoor racquets sport played world wide, table tennis had an inauspicious beginning; the sport had its origins in England in the late 1800s as a parlor game known as "Whiff Waff," an activity played on dining room tables for recreation. The first table tennis balls were fashioned from champagne corks. In the late 1920s, the popularity of table tennis led to the formation of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). Various national associations were also founded, such as the United States Table Tennis Association (now USA Table Tennis), established in 1933.
Table tennis is played today in virtually every country of the world, with sanctioned competitions in age group categories ranging from under 10 years of age to 80 yeas and over. Table tennis is an official Paralympics wheelchair sport. As with tennis, there are men', women', doubles, and mixed doubles categories of play.
The rules of table tennis have been standardized for many years. The playing surface is a 9 ft by 5 ft rectangular table (2.7 m by 1.5 m), usually dark blue or green in color. The surface of the table is positioned 30 in (76 cm) above the floor; the playing surface is divided by a 6 in (15 cm) high net. Each half of the court is marked with a white line to create the two equal surfaces used in doubles play. The table must be constructed of a material that possesses a high coefficient of restitution, to ensure that the ball is sufficiently lively when it is struck off the table surface.
The ball used in table tennis is very light weight and hollow, manufactured from celluloid material. The ball measures 1.6 in (4 cm) in diameter, with an approximate weight of 0.1 oz (2.7 g). The table tennis racquet is most commonly called a paddle. The paddle is oval shaped, covered on both sides by a thin layer of rubber, sponge, or other similar synthetic material. There are no restrictions placed upon the size or weight of the paddle by the ITTF; the type of paddle surface will dictate the nature of the spin that can be generated by the player on the ball.
The rules of table tennis are relatively straightforward. Play commences with a serve—the ball must strike on the serving players side of the court first, and then make contact with the any part of the surface of the opponent's court. The serve must be made from behind the edge of the serving player's side of the table. The ball must be fully exposed to the sight of the opponent during the serve, with a toss that travels a minimum of 6 in (15 cm) in the air. The server is not permitted to impart any spin on the ball as it is tossed into the air to commence service. The opposing player must return the ball using the paddle only, where the ball makes contact with any portion of the opponent' side of the playing surface, including the corners and sides of the table. A point is scored if the serve fails, or where one player fails to return the ball onto the opponent's court, or if the ball is struck into the net.
Table tennis games are scored to 11 points, with the players alternating serves every two points scored. A typical table tennis match will be either a best of five games or a best of seven games series.
The athleticism of the modern elite table tennis player is light years removed from the old English parlor game. Players routinely deliver the ball at speeds approaching 100 mph (160 km/h), often with significant spin. The shape of the paddle permits a great deal of player creativity with respect to both imparting spin as well as the placement of the ball. The players will at times be in very close quarters, separated only by the 9 ft (3 m) length of table; in other circumstances, such as responding to a lob shot or a smash delivered at high speeds, the players might be 20 ft (6m) or more behind the table surface. Rallies in table tennis for this reason are often very high paced and dynamic segments of the game. Attacking shots are generally struck with a top spin motion to produce speed, and defensive shots carry backspin to counter the offensive shot.
Table tennis is a sport that does not require significant athletic size or strength; many world champion caliber players achieve success through the development of their quickness, hand eye coordination, balance, and a sophisticated tactical appreciation of the game. The physical training needed to support a competitive table tennis player will include significant focus on footwork, especially through workouts that have elements of lateral movement and plyometric training. A degree of strength training, to create over all body balance, is also helpful in table tennis training. The athlete must build their aerobic fitness levels to enable the athlete to shorten recovery times in a long match or series of matches. Table tennis players also must devote significant time to stretching and flexibility exercises, both to achieve the ability to move and react explosively, as well as to prevent injury; table tennis players spend a great deal of time running and moving on les absorbent hard surfaces that place greater stress on the player's lower legs, ankles and feet. Table tennis players are vulnerable to over use injuries to these structures, such as plantar fasciitis and muscle strains.
table tennis, game played, usually indoors, by two or four players; it is more or less a miniature form of lawn tennis. It is also called Ping-Pong, after the trade name that a manufacturer adopted (c.1900) for the equipment.
The regulation game is played on a table that measures 9 ft by 5 ft (2.74 m by 1.52 m) and stands 2.5 ft (76 cm) from the floor. A transverse net 6 in. (15.25 cm) high divides the surface, which is generally dark in color, edged with white stripes, and halved longitudinally (for doubles play) by another white stripe. The celluloid ball is hollow, seamless, and about 1.5 in. (3.81 cm) in diameter, with a weight of .1 oz (2.8 grams); the racket, or bat, is a wooden paddle with a handle 3 in. (7.62 cm) long and a round blade about 6.5 in. (16.5 cm) long, covered with rubber.
In the service (unlike tennis) the ball must bounce once before clearing the net and again bounce before being struck by the receiver. After the service (only one is allowed, not two as in tennis), the returns should go over the net without bouncing on the near surface. A point is scored when a service does not land properly in play or when a player fails to return the ball properly. Each player in turn serves consecutively five times until the winning score of 21 is reached. (If the score is tied at 20-all, play must continue until a 2-point margin is won.) In doubles matches partners rotate in units of five consecutive services, and the server must deliver the ball into the diagonally opposite box.
Table tennis originated in the late 19th cent. with cork or rubber balls. First popular in England, it spread to several European countries and to the United States in the early 20th cent. The International Table Tennis Federation was founded (1926) to standardize the rules and equipment. The U.S. Table Tennis Association was founded in 1933.
Primarily a recreational sport in the United States, table tennis is a major competitive sport in Asia and parts of Europe. In 1971 the sport achieved a great measure of publicity when, while touring Japan, a U.S. table tennis team was invited to play in China, thereby initiating the first officially sanctioned Sino-American cultural exchange in almost twenty years. Table tennis took its place on the Olympic program in 1988.
See D. Parker and D. Hewitt, Table Tennis (1989).