How to Serve Legally in Table Tennis / Ping-Pong for Singles & Doubles

You start getting interested in table tennis but not clear about ping pong serving rules.

Easy peasy! Flip till the end; we make sure the information provided is understandable enough for you to read.

Many beginners often view reading ping pong serving rules before actual matches as an unimportant step.

However, the reality is pretty opposite!

Every rule exists as the premise upon how players bring it to practice.

If a player just ignores the rules, plays in whatever ways he/she wants.

They will never be able to make any progress in their ping pong career and never can become the expert like they always want.

Ping Pong Serving Rules

Basic Rules

Commonly, the odd number like 3, 5, or 7 determines the total number of games you are going to play.

An accumulative score determines who is the winner, meaning a player achieving 11 at a 2-point margin ends the game in triumph over his/her opponent.

Thus, to become a winner, let’s start with the basic rules, which are as follow:

  • The umpire tosses a coin to determine who serves first.
  • The player performing the first service must throw the ball in the air, then blast it with a plunge. 
  • The ball should hit the server’s court before crossing over the net and hitting the side of the Playerscorrectlyreceivers’ court.
  • Only when the ball hits the receiver’s court shall he/she take the service. 
  • The umpire and opponent must be observant because any failure may bring about an extra point for the opponent or a warning towards that player.
  • After the server delivered a legitimate service, the receiver must hit the ball back. 

Serve Gesture Rules

Throw less than 16 inches vertically

When a player begins their strike, the vertical space between the ball and their palm must be less than 6 inches or 16 cm.

If not, you are just outlawing that throw. 

It is illegal when you toss the ball sideways, leading to the throws higher than 16 cm.

Hence, remember that when the ball takes off into the air, make sure its motion path from your palm must at least be 6 inches or 16 cm.

Also, the ball should be moving vertically upwards.

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Throw Less 16 cm Vertically Upwards

Palm Opened Properly

It would be best if you open your palm properly before you throw the ball in the air.

According to the server rule 2.06.01, the ball must be visible on the open palm, meaning you should never try to hide it with your fingers.

Once you do this, your opponent can observe the ball effortlessly.

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Palm Opened Properly

Don’t Hide the Serve

You are probably familiar with hidden servers in ping pong, but based on the official serving rules, doing so is illegal.

Many servers use their arm, head, and shoulder to hide serves.

Nonetheless, we do advise you to avoid concealing the serve at the match.

* If the ball ends up landing on the net during the service, you are eligible to take a re-serve. However, your serve must be valid from the outset as an additional condition.

how to serve legally in table tennis 03
Don’t Hide The Serve

Keep & throw the ball above the ping pong table

You may have heard of the common case of hiding the ball with fingers so that the opponent can not identify its location.

The 2.06.04 table tennis serve rule states that the ball must always be over the ping pong’s surface so that your opponent can observe its movements and has enough time to make preparation. 

how to serve legally in table tennis 04
Keep & Throw The Ball Above The Table

Serve behind the end line

The umpire will count your service as an illegal service if you hit the ball from the side of the ping pong.

Instead, when serving the ball, you never should stray from behind the white end line of the table tennis.

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Serve Behind The End Line

Serve Rules for Doubles

  • Players A and B, C and D are joining in a doubles tennis match. Player A must stand on the right-hand side, serving the ball towards his/her opponent on the opposite side. Players C and D step forward and stand on the left-hand side of their partners.
  • If any of those players fail to adhere to the serving rules above, one team will get one point.
  • A team shall win one point if the opponent team violates the order of every rally. 
  • Usually, the server will hit the ball so that it first reaches his or her court and then, after crossing the net, directly touches the receiver’s court. However, with the doubles games, the ball should reach the right half court of the server and receiver consecutively.

Common Illegal Serve in Ping Pong

In the Table Serve

The first common illegal serve rule is in the table service, involving the ball inside the table you must avoid while playing.

This trick commonly helps players create super shot serves, meaning that they gain points more easily and quickly.

Then doing so is unfair and invalid.

If your opponent keeps serving on the table, stop the match, and ask the referee to recheck this case.

You should request he/she to serve the ball outside the table. 

Time to Serve

Impatience is unavoidable if your opponent bides their time and refuses to serve the moment the game begins.

As a consequence, you might let your emotions get the better of you and lose your points expeditiously. 

Some opponents try to expand the match’s pace by continuously changing their positions, picking up the ball slowly, or holding the ball too long.

If you have been in this situation, try to hold yourself together, then ask the umpire.

If you do so, the opponent realizes that their tricks do not work and stop doing those illegal tricks. 

Quick Serve

During the tournament, you might find yourself facing the “quick serve” at least once or twice.

Quick serve means you have barely prepared yourself to handle the strike yet.

Still, your opponent delivers it anyway, resulting in a higher risk of you missing the ball.

If you believe your opponent is playing this trick, don’t accept that serve.

Instead, ask them to serve again.

Low Toss Serve & Throw in Serve

You may have played with players who do not toss the ball high enough.

Rather, they throw it directly to their blade.

Doing so creates unfair advantages for the server as the recipient will have difficulty in countering the attack.

If you are in this situation, report it to the umpire or refuse to continue the match if your opponent repeats sending the ball right at your blade over and over.

Hidden Serve

And finally, the most common illegal serve rule in ping pong is hidden serve, which happens when players use their body or free arm to hide the contact point of the ball.

The receiver can hardly make out whether that was a backspin serve, a non-spin float serve, or a topspin serve. 

Then if you are in this case, request your opponent to stop delivering hidden serve or the referee to check the server. 

Table Tennis Rules FAQs:

  1. How many serves do you get in ping pong?

    Each player has two serves delivered in a row, and they keep playing until one of them achieves 11 points.

    Sometimes, players get a deuce, like scores keep locked at 10:10.
    In order for the match to end, each serves only one and alternates until one player gains a two-point margin, meaning that he/she wins the game, for example, 14:12.

  2. What is a legal serve in ping pong?

    Based on the full official service rules in the ITTF Rulebooks, you must let the ball settle on an open hand palm, then toss it up at least 6 inches.

    If your serve touches the net, we call it a “let serve”, not “net serve”.
    Though this service is legal, you do not get the point from “let serve” and need to re-do the serve.

  3. Do you have to serve across in ping pong?

    In ping pong Singles, you are free to choose the position you can serve.
    The singles match rules require the server to handle the ball behind the table end and above the table level.

    And, the server can not use his/her body to make the ball unseen from the receiver.

    However, in a ping pong Doubles game, you must serve across the court, meaning that the service starts from the server’s right half side to the receiver’s right side of the table.

    If the server is already crossing the net lands on the left side of the ping pong, the server loses one point.

  4. How do you serve in ping pong?

    Leave the ball lying in your open palm and necessarily behind the end of the table.
    Throw the ball straight up 16 cm from your hand palm, and strike it downwards.

    The ball must hit the server’s side first and then the other side of the table.

    Bear in mind that when the ball rests on the server’s hand, it means both sides are in play.
    Therefore, if one player misses or miss-hits the ball, the receiver gets one point.

  5. How do you score in ping pong?

    The player scores one point if:
    – Right after the opponent hits the ball, it crosses the end line without reaching the court. Then he/she obstructs the ball.
    – The opponent fails to deliver a correct serve or valid return. 
    – The opponent uses an unjustified part of the table tennis racket whose material is not rubber to strike the ball. 
    – The player executes only one hit, meaning that double hits cause a point added to his/her opponent. 
    – The opponent’s hands touch the table.
    – The opponent either moves the table or touches the net.
    – A player receives the second warning from the referee in the same game itself.

  6. Can you hit the net in ping pong?

    You can hit the net in ping pong only when the ball touches the nettop and then lands as a legal strike during a rally. You can not hit the net while serving.

    Because if a served ball touches the net, then legitimately bounces in play, called as a “let serve”, there is no restriction on how many times that serve can repeat.

  7. How many “let serves” are allowed in table tennis?

    It depends on your strategy against the opponent. According to the official rules, there is no limit on how many “let serves” you can do in ping pong.

    Besides, you can not lose on a “let serve”; instead, you will if your service is unsuccessful.

  8. Does the ball have to bounce in table tennis?

    The ball must bounce at least one time in ping pong, particularly on the server’s side after the opponent hits it over the net.

    If the ball goes up twice or more after making contact with your side of the table, your opponent gets one point.

  9. Can you hit a ping pong ball before it bounces?

    The answer is yes only if it is the case of regular tennis when you can volley the ball, meaning that you hit a ping pong ball before it bounces.

    But you will reward your opponent with one point if you do so in table tennis.

Final Words

Hopefully, our paper has given you a more thorough insight into ping pong serving rules.

If you have any questions related to ping pong, feel free to ask us.

We promise we will do our best to clarify all of your doubts.

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