It's not difficult for spectators to appreciate the grace, agility and dynamic power of the tournament level table
tennis player. What you are seeing is the product of endless hours of physical training and tens of thousands of balls hit
in practice drills.
You are probably already familiar with the rules of the game if you have played "Ping-Pong" in your basement. To quickly
review: The game starts with a coin toss, the winner having the choice of serving or receiving. Service alternates in groups
of five until one of the players wins the game at 21 points, unless the score reaches 20-20, a deuce game, and players then
alternate serves until one of them wins by two points.
The equipment used by the tournament players differs greatly from that used by the recreational player. The tournament
players gives considerable thought in selecting the type of wood for the blade (also known as paddle) and choosing from hundreds
of different types of rubber. Some players use a "combination racket" having a very spinny rubber on one side and a slick
or "anti-spin" rubber on the other. When you see a player flipping his racket he is going back and forth between the spinny
side and the slick side in an effort to confuse his opponent. Occasionally you will see a player make what appears to be a
very simple and easily avoided error. That player has been the victim of his opponent's deception. With this advantage of
different rubber, the International Table Tennis Federation established a rule a few years ago in which all rackets should
have one side of red rubber and one side of black rubber. Before the start of the match it is common for the players to present
their rackets to each other for inspection so that they know what kind of spin effect is produced from each of the rubber
Top players will tell you that there are only three ways to win a point - speed, spin, and placement- but in the course
of a game there are a multitude of ways to get into a position of winning that point.
Spin is often the most difficult part of the game for a player to cope with. In a fraction of a second the player must
judge not only the ball's velocity and where it will land, but also whether it has topspin or under-spin combined with the
infinite degrees of side spin possible. As a spectator you can sometimes tell what the spin is by closely watching the ball
A ball with topspin will stay low and kick towards an opponent. A ball with underspin tends to slow down a bit and bounce
Spin is also the primary ingredient in the service game. Players spend a great deal of time finding ways to generate spin
in their serves and almost as much time in devising ways to disguise it. Occasionally you will see a player hit what seems
to be an easy serve into the net or off the table. The server disguised the real spin so well that neither his opponent or
you could tell what it was.
Another aspect of the game is sometimes difficult to appreciate is the mental intensity, the depth of concentration, required
of these athletes. The table tennis player is in the position of having to actively think about strategy and at the same time
let his body instinctively react to the hall. A nifty piece of mental gymnastics.