What Are The Olympic Rules For Table Tennis?

The Olympics is one of the most highly anticipated sporting events in the world, and it brings together hundreds of nations in various competitions across a wide variety of different sports.

It is an event that most people will mark down on their calendars, as those that are participating get ready.

What Are The Olympic Rules For Table Tennis

However, if you are interested in watching the Olympic table tennis games, then you might want to consider learning the rules, so you can keep up with what is going on.

Sometimes, the Olympic rules for certain sports are not always the same as they would be for lower level tournaments, so it is definitely worth finding out.

In this article, we are going to explain all of the Olympic rules for table tennis, so you can follow along with what is going down on the screen.

This knowledge will help you to better appreciate the event and keep up with what’s happening, as it happens.

The Basic Technical Terms That You Should Know

One of the best places to start learning about the Olympic rules for table tennis would be by learning what some of the most commonly used technical terms in the game are.

We are going to explain the meaning of these terms below, so you can keep up with the terminology that is being used throughout the game.


The first thing that you should be aware of is the meaning of the word rally. A rally is the period of time in which the ball is in play during the game.

This includes everything from the moment that the ball is served to the time when any of the players fails to return the ball to the opponent’s court.


You might think that game is referring to the entire game that is being played, but this is not actually the case.

When the word game is being used, it is referring to a cluster of rallies. Players will need to complete multiple games in a race to hit 11 points.

The first player that reaches this number of points is the one that will win the current game.

If both of the players in the match reach 10 points, then the one that is able to earn a lead of at least 2 points will be the one that is declared to be the overall winner of the game.


A match is a cluster of games, and at the Olympic level, a match will be made up of 7 games for both the male and female singles events.

When it comes to team events for both men and women, a match will be made up of a total of 5 games. The first player that is able to win 5 games in a singles match will be the winner.

On the other hand, the first team to win 3 matches in a doubles match will be the winner.


One that you might already know from other sports, or just by watching, is serve. The serve is the start of a rally.

One of the players will set the ball in play while they are following certain regulations.

The Basic Technical Table Tennis Terms That You Should Know

A player will be allowed two serves in a row before the ball will then be passed on to the opponent for their opportunity to serve.


One of the more obscure terms that you should know about is stroke, which essentially means ‘to hit the ball’.

There are various different types of strokes in the game of table tennis, and the serve is one of them.

Playing Surface

The playing surface refers to the entire surface area of the ping pong table. This is the only space where the ball is allowed to fall during play.

What You Need To Know About Table Tennis Equipment

In order to ensure that the table tennis match is being played following international guidelines, there are some specifics when it comes to the equipment that is allowed to be used in this sport.

All of the equipment must have been identified by the International Table Tennis Federation.

All of the regulations that are in place can change, depending on the level of the tournament.

When it comes to the Olympic games, there are a certain set of rules that must be followed when it comes to the equipment.

The table must:

  • Have dimensions of 9 feet bb 5 feet and have a height of 76 cm
  • Yield a uniform bounce height of 23 cm when a standard ping pong ball is dropped on it vertically downwards from a height of 30 cm
  • Have a matt finish with a gloss index of 15
  • Be made from a continuous piece of material as tables that are made from several piece of material that have been pieced together are prohibited
  • Be uniformly dark plain in order to improve the overall visibility of the ball
  • Feature white colored lines that are 2 cm in width and that outline the edges of the tables. These should be painted onto the playing surface
  • Have a taut secured net that splits the table into two even playing sides. The net must also extend beyond either side of the table by 6 inches, and it should be 6 inches in height from the table
  • Allow a space of at least 46 ft x 23 ft where the table stands in the exact center to provide enough space for players to move around the playing surface

The paddles must:

  • Be black on one side and red on the other side
  • Not be enhanced in any way in order to keep the game fair
  • Not be cleaned by any product that leave a film over the rubber
  • Comply with the ITTF regulations

All players must:

  • Not wear sponsor logos on their clothing unless it is the brand logo. The size of this logo must also be verified with the olympic organizers
  • Must ensure that if they have their name and country number printed or embroidered on their clothing, it is in large letters at the center of the back of the clothing and not exceeding ⅓ of the shirt

The playing field must:

  • Have a light density of 1000 lux
  • Have ceilings that are at least 10 meters high
  • Have smooth floors that are free of obstacles and that are of a contrasting color to that of the table
  • Have walls that are painted a dark color up to 8 feet to be able to provide contrast against the ping pong ball
  • Be at room temperature, with a minimum of 15 degrees celsius and a maximum of 20 degrees celsius
  • Have a humidity index of between 40 and 50 percent

How Olympic Table Tennis Games Are Started

Before a rally is started, the umpire may first assist in deciding which of the players should serve first.

Both of the players will be provided with an equal opportunity to snag the right to the first serve. This is often decided through a coin toss.

Each player will be designated one side of a count, which will then be tossed. Whichever side of the count lands face up will determine which of the players will serve first.

Once the ball has then been tossed and served, it is considered to be in play.

Each of the players will have the opportunity for two consecutive serves before the ball will then be given to the other player.

How Olympic Table Tennis Games Are Started

If both of the players manage to reach 10 points each, which is called a deuce, then the service will be narrowed down to just one serve each.

This will continue until one of the players manages to take the lead by at least two points.

When this does happen, the leading player will win the game that has been in play.

How Does The Scoring System Work In Olympic Table Tennis?

During a game of Olympic table tennis, the players will be able to earn points, which can be collected through the span of a rally.

This will determine the winner of each set, and there are a few different ways that a player will be able to score points, including:

  • A bad serve or an illegal serve
  • Causing the ball to bounce twice on your side of the playing surface
  • Failing to return the ball once it touches your side of the playing surface
  • Failing to make the ball bounce on the opponent’s side of the table
  • When the ball comes back into your side of the table after hitting the net
  • Using a free hand to hold the table
  • Obstructing the view of the other opponent in any way during play
  • Hiding the ball from the other player
  • Hitting the ball out of turn during a game of doubles
  • Hitting the ball twice in succession
  • Hitting the ball before it bounces on your side of the table

How Long Does A Game Of Olympic Table Tennis Last?

Usually, an Olympic game of table tennis should be over one one of the two players has managed to reach 11 points, or when one of the players has a lead of at least 2 points after a deuce. ​

However, if the total score is still less than 18 after a total of 10 minutes has passed, then the player that has the highest score will be the winner.

On the other hand, if the total score is more than 18 points after 10 minutes has passed, then the game will continue until one of the players is able to reach 11 points, or when either of them gains a lead of 2 points after a deuce, no matter how long it takes.

Rules That Are Only Used In Doubles

If the game is table tennis doubles, then it is known that the server will make the first hit, which is then returned by the receiver.

When the ball is back in the server’s cour, then their partner will make the return.

Then, the partner of the receiver will stroke the ball back, and the rally will continue in this way until a score is made.

If any of the players hits the ball out of this pattern, then the opposite team will get a point.

Once one team has finished this, then the ball will be given to the other team to be served.

Generally, the rule is that the receiver for the stroke of the new server will be decided by the person that served in the first game.


You might be surprised to learn that there is much more to a game of Olympic table tennis than simply hitting a ball back and forth over a table, but then again, maybe not.

There are lots of different rules that need to be abided by all of the players in the game, and being aware of these rules will help to improve your viewing experience when you are watching the Olympic game take place.

There are lots of things to remember when it comes to these rules, so it might be worth making a list and going over it a few times so you can try and remember them.

This will make keeping up with the game much easier, and you can be one of the most knowledgeable spectators in the room.

It isn’t always the easiest to keep up with a game of table tennis if you don’t know what’s going on, so now you can.

Dave White