How to Serve in Ping Pong (And Really Make it Count…)

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If you're trying to figure out how to serve in ping pong in a way that helps you actually win the game, then you've come to the right place.

how to serve in pong pong exaggerated

One of the most important parts of playing ping pong is the serve, but some players simply do not understand how to serve well, which leaves them at a clear disadvantage.

Understanding not only how to serve, but also how to serve well is important and will help any ping pong player improve their game quickly.

Let's learn a bit more...

How to Serve in Ping Pong

1. Plan the Serve

Planning the serve is really important, as it will help any ping pong player instantly improve their serve and become a more formidable opponent. It’s a good idea to consider the strengths and the weaknesses of an opponent so that the serve can be adapted to exploit their problems. While taking time at the beginning of a serve to plan your serve may seem superfluous to some players, it is a great way for ping pong players to try to get the upper hand on their opponent. 

planning the ping pong serve

When playing with someone with a penhold grip, make sure to serve to their backhand side, but opponents using a shakehand grip need to have the ball served closer to their body for better success. Additionally, consider how close the opponent is to the table and try to serve the ball to keep them moving and prevent them from becoming comfortable in their location and it is allowed.

2. Start the Serve

In ping pong, the ball has to rest freely on the open palm of the hand before being tossed into the air for a serve. This ensures that servers are not able to add any spin to the ball with their fingers or with their hand while tossing it into the air. While spin serves were really popular in the past, rules have since been amended to prevent them from being allowed, as they are difficult to return and will give the server an unfair advantage during the game.  

In fact, umpires are constantly watching to make sure that players aren’t trying to add any spin on the ball. They look to check if the ball is resting freely on the hand, which will prevent the player from being able to add any spin to it when tossing it into the air.

3. Toss the Ball up

The toss, or vertical throw, of the ping pong ball is very important, and umpires also watch to make sure that the toss is completed correctly and without any interference which may change the direction or speed of the ball. The rules state that the ball has to be tossed vertically, sans any spin, so that it rises a minimum of 16 cm above the hand. It then needs to fall back down without being touched before it is hit.

By requiring ping pong players to throw their balls up instead of out to the side, umpires can keep an eye on the ball and make sure that players aren’t adding any spin to it when it is in the air. This also keeps players from being able to toss the ball so that it lands directly on the paddle, which will add more power and speed to the serve.

Servers aren’t allowed to raise their hands high to try to fool umpires into thinking that the ball was tossed at least 16 cm into the air. They must make sure that the ball has that much clearance from their hand for the serve to be considered legal.

Players must make sure that the ball clearly leaves their hand. As soon as the ball has been tossed, then it is in play, so servers must make sure that they are serving correctly and that they are able to then make contact with the ball or they risk losing a point.

4. Strike the Ball

At this point, the server needs to prepare to strike the ball after it hits on their side of the court. While in tennis, players serve without allowing the ball to first hit the court, this would allow more powerful players to add a lot of power and speed to their serve, making it difficult for their opponent to return easily and successfully.

Because the ball has to be allowed to bounce on the table before being hit over the net, umpires can also make sure that the ball is not struck as it is being tossed into the air. Servers must wait and time their serve to make sure that the ball has been allowed to strike their side of the table before hitting it.

The ball must pass either over or around the net and then land on the opponent’s side of the table or it will not be considered still in play. During singles, ping pong players have a lot of control over where they want to serve the ball from and where they want the ball to land, but the rules are a little different for doubles games.

If the ball first hits the net before landing on the opponent’s side, then it is considered a fault or a let. If the ball hits the net and misses the receiver’s court, then the server loses a point. However, if the ball first hits the net and then the other side of the court, then they can attempt their serve again without penalty.

5. Keep it Above the Playing Surface

Players must make sure that when serving a ball, they keep it above the playing surface and behind the end line. They are not allowed to try to hide the ball from the receiver either by their body or their clothing. The point of this is to ensure that the opponent is always able to see the ball.

However, one important thing to note is that the racket doesn’t have to be shown before the serve. This means that the server can easily conceal their racket under the table or behind their back before serving.

clearly showing the ping pong ball

6. Don’t Hide the Ball

In addition to making sure that the ball is not hidden during the serve, there is also a rule that states that the free hand and arm of the server need to be removed from between the net and the ball once the ball has been tossed into the air. This ensures that both the umpire and the receiver can easily see the ball, and makes it easier for the receiver to be able to return the serve.

7. Make Sure the Hit Is Legal

Servers have to make sure that their hit is legal when serving the ball. This means that they can’t first hit the ball with the racket hand below the wrist or on the fingers. The ball can only hit the racket that is held in the racket hand, and can only do so once. Since double hits aren’t allowed, players aren’t allowed to accidentally hit the ball with their fingers and then hit it with their racket, as this will disqualify the serve.

FAQs About Serving

Can you win on a serve in ping pong?

When serving, players must make sure that the ball first hits on their side of the net, bounces over the net, and then lands on their opponent’s side. If they are able to do this and their opponent is unable to return the serve, then the server will earn a point.

Can you lose on a serve in ping pong?

It is definitely possible to lose the point when serving, so ping pong players need to make sure that they are very careful and pay attention, as every single point in the game counts. The player who is able to win the rally also wins the point, and this doesn’t matter if they are the server or the person receiving the serve. Because of this, servers need to make sure that they recover quickly after their serve and are ready and in position to start the rally with their opponent.

Can you serve anywhere in ping pong? Do you have to serve diagonally?

During singles games of ping pong, players can serve to anywhere on the table from anywhere on the table. This frees up ping pong players to have a lot of control over where they start their serve and where the ball ends once it hits the table on the other side of the net.

However, when playing in doubles, the serve has to be played diagonally. To do this, players can use the middle line to ensure that they serve from the correct area and serve the ball into the correct spot on the other side of the table. This means that players must serve in the right half courts, not the left. This is a clear difference from when playing in singles.

How many times do you serve in ping pong?

The first server in a game of ping pong serves for two points in a row before the serve switches to the other player. This continues until someone wins the game or a score of 10-all is reached. If this occurs, then both players will take turns serving just one serve at a time until someone has won the game.