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How To Serve In Ping Pong – Official Rules Explained

How To Serve In Ping Pong

Knowing how to serve in ping pong is a crucial part of learning how to play the game properly. Often, those who are new to table tennis make illegal serves because they do not know the official table tennis rules about serving. Learning these rules is important so that you can play table tennis correctly, but also so you can call out opponents when they do not follow the rules. Plus, serving well can help you catch your opponent off-guard and thus gain points. This article will teach you exactly how to make a legal table tennis serve and what to avoid. Then it is up to you to practice as much as possible!

Serving In Ping Pong

First things first, we will take you through a step-by-step list that tells you exactly how you serve in table tennis.

1. Hold The Ball Flat In The Palm

Official ping pong rules state that the ball must be flat in the server’s hand before serving. You may not grip the ball or hold it with the tips of your fingers, as that would be an unlawful serve. This is to prevent players from spinning the ball when they throw it up.

2. Keep The Ball Above The Table And Behind Your Serve Line

When serving, your free hand (the hand holding the ball) must be above the table. In addition, as you throw the ball up and make contact with your racket, the ball must be behind the end line of the table.

It is important that the ball is visible to your opponent throughout.

3. Keep Your Racket Hand Below The Table To Hide It

This is not a necessary part of the serve and it is quite an advanced technique. But unlike your freehand, it is not illegal to hold your racket hand below the table. The benefit of this maneuver is that it can hide the kind of serve you are about to make. However, you will need to bring your racket up very quickly once you throw the ball into the air in order to hit it in time, so we do not recommend it for beginners. If you are a beginner, learn how to hold a ping pong paddle here.

4. Throw The Ball Upward

Throw The Ball Upward

When you toss, make sure you throw the ball straight upward – not at an angle. Also, the rules state that you must throw your ball at least 6.3 inches (16 cm) into the air. Any lower than that is not a legal serve. If you are not sure what that looks like, 6.3 inches is about the length of your paddle. If you don’t have one yet, learn about the best ping pong paddles here.

5. Strike The Ball At The Descending Phase

Service law states that you must strike the ball during its descending phase. That means the ball must have reached a height of 6.3 inches (16 cm) and have begun falling downward before you hit it with your paddle.

You may not make contact with the ball while it is still rising upward.

6. Bounce The Ball On Your Side Before It Goes Over The Net

Strike the ball so that it bounces on your side of the net first. If it sails over the net without bouncing on your side, that is an illegal serve. This may be the most difficult aspect of the serve, so it is worth practicing a lot. The key is to hit the ball fast enough so that your opponent struggles to return it, but without so much force that it goes straight over the net.

7. Do Not Hide The Serve

As soon as you have thrown the ball, move your free hand away from it. It is illegal to “hide” the ball from your opponent, so it is best to pull your hand way back so you cannot be accused of this. It is important that your opponent is able to see your contact point.

8. Hit Anywhere On The Table If You Are Playing Singles

Playing Singles

If you are playing singles, you can hit anywhere on the table (as long as you let the ball bounce on your side first). But you can aim for the ball to end up anywhere you want it to – the entire opposite side is fair game.

9. Hit The Opposite Diagonal If You Are Playing Doubles

However, if you are playing doubles, you are restricted to hitting toward the square that is diagonally opposite from you. If your ball hits outside that square, it counts as a fault. This square is easily visible due to the white line down the center of the table.

Table Tennis Official ITTF Service Rules

These are the official table tennis rules as prescribed by the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation).

  1. Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server’s stationary free hand.
  2. The server shall then project the ball near vertically upward, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16 cm (6.3”) after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.
  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. 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.
  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.
  6. If the 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.

Warnings And Penalties

According to the service rules of the ITTF, these actions could get you a penalty.

  • Do not hold the ball in your fingers before tossing it.
  • Do not hold your hand directly above the table as you make your toss.
  • Do not make contact with the ball in front of the end line.
  • Do not hit the ball without tossing it up at least 6.3” (16 cm).
  • Do not hit the ball in its ascending phase.
  • Do not throw the ball diagonally or horizontally.
  • Do not hide the ball at any point during the serve.

Types Of Table Tennis Serves

Table Tennis Serves

Forehand Serve

In a forehand serve, you hold your arm open so that the palm of your hand faces your opponent.

Most table tennis paddles are red on the forehand side and black on the backhand side.

Backhand Serve

Backhand serves are similar to forehand serves, except that you hit the ball with the black side of the paddle, so the back of your hand is facing your opponent.

Ghost Serve

A ghost serve is an advanced maneuver in which the ball first bounces forward and then backward. It involves holding the paddle on its side so it is parallel to the table and brushing it under the ball to generate backspin. This is a highly deceptive but legal serve technique!

Pendulum Serve

Another advanced technique, in a pendulum, you move the paddle from side to side to create both clockwise and counterclockwise spin. You can also get topspin and underspin with this type of serve, depending on where the ball and paddle come into contact.

The Benefits Of A Great Serve

Benefits Of A Great Serve

Here is why it is worth practicing to develop a stellar table tennis serve.

  • When serving, you have more control over the ball than you have during the rest of the game. If you can master it, you are much closer to mastering the game.
  • The better your spin is, the harder your opponent will have to work to score a point on the return.
  • If your opponent struggles to read your serve, they may return the ball in such a way that they do not score a point or miss it altogether!

When To Change Your Serve

Part of developing good serve technique is knowing when to switch it up. Try to change your serve as often as possible, so your opponent never knows what is coming and you score more points! If your opponent struggles to return a certain serve, you may be tempted to use it all the time, but if you do that, they will get used to it. Rather keep up the variation and save the serve your opponent struggles with for crucial moments. If this is inspiring you to get your own ping pong table, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

You serve ping pong by holding the ball in your flat hand and tossing it up into the air. Make sure that you throw from behind the end line and that it is a vertical toss. Then, you hit the ball with your paddle as it begins to descend, making sure that it bounces on your side before going over the net.

A serve is illegal in ping pong if you grip the ball with your fingers or if it is hidden at any point while you are serving. Other illegal serving actions include throwing or hitting the ball in front of the service line, hitting the ball without tossing it, tossing the ball diagonally or horizontally or hitting the ball in its ascending phase.

The easiest serve in table tennis is the forehand serve. This involves hitting the ball with your arm open so that your forehand faces your opponent. You make contact with the red side of the paddle. The forehand serve is usually the first one you learn in table tennis, followed by the backhand.

You serve the ping pong ball properly to gain points by switching it up as often as possible. The more you can keep your opponent guessing, the harder it will be for them to return your serve. If you change your serve often, your opponent will not easily be able to predict what you will do and thus know how to respond.


Hopefully, you now know how to serve in ping pong and all the official rules that tell you what to do and what not to do. However, it is going to take more than reading articles to learn how to make a really good table tennis serve. You have heard the adage that practice makes perfect – so you know what to do!

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