Origin and Brief History of Table Tennis

What is Table Tennis?

Table tennis, also known as ping-pong, is a sport in which two or four players hit a lightweight ball back and forth across a table using small rackets. The game takes place on a hard table divided by a net. Except for the initial serve, the rules are generally as follows: players must allow a ball played toward them to bounce one time on their side of the table, and must return it so that it bounces on the opposite side at least once. A point is scored when a player fails to return the ball within the rules. Play is fast and demands quick reactions. Spinning the ball alters its trajectory and limits an opponent’s options, giving the hitter a great advantage.

Table tennis would arguably top any list of the world’s most popular indoor sports. It is virtually played in every country across the world by young and old, unfit and athletic alike. It is extremely easy to pick up and requires very little investment in terms of equipment. You can learn it in an afternoon, become good at it in a week, but still take a lifetime to master it. These unique properties have made it among the world’s favorite games.

Brief History of Table Tennis

The origins of the game can be traced back to a parlor game popular in the late 19th century in England. This simple game consisted largely of hitting a champagne cork with a book, back and forth across a large table (usually a dinner table) separated into two halves by a row of books (the ‘net’). Initially the game was called “whiff-whaff” due to the sound the books made as the players wielded them.

The increasing popularity of this game caused manufacturers to cash in and create specialized equipment – tables, ball and rackets (which consisted of a roll of thick parchment stretched across a wooden frame). The sound made by these early rackets on hitting the ball lent the game its name – ‘Ping Pong’ – and thus, modern table tennis was born.

By the 1920s, there were thousands of amateur players throughout Europe and a need was felt to regulate the sport. Thus, in 1926, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was formed, which regulates the sport to this day. The same year, the first World Championship was held in London, thus giving birth to professional table tennis.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

A major factor in the popularity of table tennis is the simplicity of its rules. Some sports, like basketball or cricket, have a myriad number of rules dictating how the game should be played.

Table tennis, on the other hand, consists only of hitting a ball across a table with a pair of rackets while making sure that the ball doesn’t crash into the net, and bounces once (and only once) in the opponent’s half of the table. Failure to hit the ball into the opponent’s half of the court causes a player to lose a point.

The first player to get to 11 points wins a game. The game is played either between 2 (singles) or 4 (doubles) players. Of course, at the competitive level, there are a number of other rules regarding the service, bounce, etc., but a beginner only needs to know the above rules to start playing.

Table Tennis Equipment

The equipment used to play table tennis consists only of a pair of rackets, a celluloid plastic ball, and a table separated into two halves by a net. The rackets and ball are both relatively inexpensive and the table is the only ‘costly’ part, though you can buy beginners tables quite cheaply.

The rackets or paddles are made of wood and are covered with rubber on one or both sides. The quality and pattern of the rubber is extremely important as it dictates the spin and speed of the ball. The ball itself is made of celluloid plastic and is 40mm in diameter.

The table on which the game is played must be 9 feet long, 5 feet wide, 30 inches high with a hardboard top, as per ITTF regulations, though amateur players often use smaller tables. The quality of the table affects the game a great deal. Better tables offer more consistent bounce, spin and speed.

A World Sport

Major table tennis playing countries are China, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Germany, Austria, and Sweden. China is the dominant power in the sport and has won 60% of the World Championships since 1960. Hungary was another dominant power in the first half of the century but has declined considerably in the past few decades. Major tournaments include the Olympics, the World, Asian, and European Championships, and the Table Tennis World Cup.

Changes in the equipment used to play the sport – higher quality paddles, tables and balls – have brought new dimensions to the game and further increased its approachability. In the coming years, table tennis is sure to increase in popularity throughout the world.

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