Last Updated on April 21, 2021.

The rules of the ping pong serve can often be a point of confusion among players. For some people, you’re allowed to serve anywhere on the table, while other people prefer using opposite squares like in tennis

People use different rules for the ping pong serve because not many people watch professional matches and do not understand the game’s official rules.

Even if you only play from time to time, it’s a good idea to know the official serve rules in ping pong. These rules are not arbitrary, and they help improve the fairness and enjoyment of the game. 

The Rules of the Ping Pong Serve

Ping pong rules have slowly changed throughout the history of the sport. The official organization that makes the rules is the International Table Tennis Federation, and they amend the rules to make the game fairer for all players. 

The rules of the ping pong serve have changed in recent years. Some decades ago, players hid the ball using their body or hand, while today, the rules state that the ball must be visible during the serve at all times. 

Rule 1: Serve Anywhere You Want on the Table in Singles

You can serve wherever you want on the table in ping pong singles. Diagonal serving is probably the most common myth about the ping pong serve. Because in similar games such as tennis or badminton, the serve is diagonal, many people assume it’s the same with ping pong. 

However, when playing doubles, the rules are different. In that case, you have to serve from the right-hand box to the opponent’s right-hand box. Ping pong doubles need this rule because it can get a bit confusing with two people on each team if the serve can go anywhere. 

Rule 2: Hold the Ball With the Palm of the Hand

If you are getting serious about ping pong and are thinking of joining a tournament soon, this is an important point to remember. People are often faulted during their first game because they don’t hold the ball the correct way. Make a habit of applying this rule and avoid this problem in the future. 

The ball can’t be held with the fingers before the serve. This is because you could illegally add some spin to make your serve trickier. Therefore, you should throw the ball in the air with the palm of your hand open. 

Rule 3: Throw the Ball at Least 6” in the Air

If you have ever watched a professional ping pong game, you might have noticed how the players throw the ball pretty high in the air for the serve. It’s pretty impressive, and the style looks a bit like tennis. 

You don’t have to throw it as high, but the official rules state that you should throw the ball at least 6” or 16 cm in the air. This is about the height of the net. 

At first, this can be difficult, and your serve will lose power while you are adjusting. However, keep practicing, and in a matter of days, it will seem you always threw the ball in the air before a serve. 

This prevents people from serving straight from their hand and surprising their opponent. You have probably played against a friend who keeps the ball hidden in their hand, and without warning, quickly serves from a corner of the table. This is precisely what this rule is trying to prevent. 

Rule 4: The Ball Must Be Above and Behind the Table

You must throw the ball in the air behind the table’s end line. You are not allowed to throw the ball right on top of the table and hit it from behind. 

Also, the opponent must be able to see the ball during the serve, so you cannot start the serve with the ball under the table. If you want, you can start the serve to the right or left of the table, as long as you are behind the imaginary end line. 

Rule 5: After Throwing the Ball, the Arm Can’t Block the Opponent’s Line of Vision

After throwing the ball in the air, you’ll be focused on hitting the ball, but you have to remember to move the free arm out of the way. This is because the free arm could make it harder for the opponent to see the ball. Make a habit of moving your arm behind right after you throw the ball in the air. 

Another way of thinking about it is the following: if you imagine a triangle between the ball and the two net posts, the triangle’s whole area must be clear of obstacles during the entire serve. 

In earlier times, this wasn’t one of the ping pong rules, and players could hide the ball in any way possible to make the serve more complicated. 

Another Surprising Ping Pong Rule

Have you ever wondered why table tennis paddles have two different colors? Usually, the paddles have a red rubber side and a black rubber side. Each side is slightly different, with the red side having small rubber pimples and the black side being flat.

The two different surfaces allow for different kinds of shots. The flat black surface can be used for faster and more powerful shots, while the pimples on the red side provide more spin on the ball. 

In 1983 the ITTF established that all ping pong paddles needed to have these two different colors. Before that year, many players used paddles with two kinds of rubbers and the same color. They would switch the side at various points during the game, making the shot more unpredictable for the opponent. 

Enjoy Playing Ping Pong and Using the Correct Rules

Being aware of the correct rules when serving the ball in ping pong can be very useful when joining a tournament. Many people lose points because they are not aware of the different rules. 

Also, the rules’ objective is to make the game fairer for both players. Use the official serve rules in your next ping pong game to improve your appreciation of this fast and beautiful game.