Table tennis is the most practiced sport in the world and sure to be a must-see attraction at Tokyo 2020.
Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"
We will show you the rules and highlights of table tennis in one minute. Whether you are familiar with table tennis or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.
Table tennis has come a long way from its late 19th century origins as an after-dinner game played by upper-class English families. More than a century later, table tennis has a greater number of recreational players than any other sport and Olympic-level competition is a breathtaking spectacle.
Legend has it that the first players used the lids of cigar boxes for rackets and a rounded-off cork from a champagne bottle as the ball. Old-fashioned names for table tennis include 'ping pong', 'whiff waff' and 'flim flam', reflecting the sound of the ball being struck. Today, the game is played with sophisticated rackets comprising a wooden blade coated with rubber on both sides, and a hollow plastic ball weighing just 2.7g.
A table tennis table is 2.74m long and 1.525m wide, positioned 76cm above the floor and divided in half by a net. The sport follows the same basic principles as tennis but has a very different scoring system. Singles matches are played over the best of seven games, with the first player to 11 points (by a margin of two clear points) winning each game.
Team matches consist of four singles matches and one doubles match, each played over the best of five games. Each team consists of three players and matches end when a team has won three individual games. In doubles matches, players take turns to hit the ball.
Unlike in tennis where a player serves for a whole game, in table tennis the service changes after every two points have been scored. Once the score reaches 10-10, the serve changes after every point. In doubles games, as well as the serve alternating between teams, it alternates between players too.
Table tennis made its Olympic debut at the Seoul 1988 Games with men's and women's singles and doubles. Since Beijing 2008 the competition has consisted of men's and women's singles and team events, while the Tokyo 2020 competition will also include a mixed doubles event. Each event operates on a knockout format, with players and teams progressing through the draw until the finals.
The International Table Tennis Federation was founded in 1926 and is one of the largest governing bodies in international sport.
- Singles (Men/Women)
- Team (Men/Women)
- Mixed Doubles
Essence of the Sport
Bold attacks with pinpoint accuracy
The small size of the table tennis table belies the intense and dynamic character of play, with balls hit at speeds in excess of 100km/h and players constantly switching from defence to attack.
Table tennis players need lightning reactions, incredible agility and high levels of fitness. In order to capitalise on their own different physical and technical strengths, some players favour a stance that positions them close to the table while others prefer to operate from a distance.
Players also utilise a variety of serves with varying degrees of spin, and a range of returns. These techniques are constantly evolving.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
Countering the power of China
Central European countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany dominated the sport until the middle of the 20th century. However, since table tennis joined the Olympic programme in 1988, China has won 28 of the 32 available gold medals.
The only European Olympic gold medallist so far has been the legendary Swedish player Jan-Ove Waldner. Nicknamed 'the Mozart of Table Tennis', Waldner won the men's singles at the Barcelona 1992 Games.
China's Ma Long added men's singles and team gold at Rio 2016 to his team title gained at London four years earlier. Ding Ning achieved the same feat in the women's competitions. China's players are expected to dominate again at Tokyo 2020 but Japanese hopes will be high. Jun Mizutani took bronze in the men's singles at Rio 2016 while the nation's athletes earned men's silver and women's bronze medals in the team events.
The official rules of the sport state that a racket can be of any size, shape or weight, but the blade must be flat and rigid and made of at least 85 per cent natural wood. Most rackets are similar in size - about 15 cm wide and 25 cm long, including the handle - and weigh less than 200 grams.