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Ping pong serve rules for singles

Here are the important table tennis serve rules for Singles. Service rules for singles are different than the service rules for Doubles.


Important serve rules for singles

The service rules and regulations for the single match in table tennis are simple. Firstly, you need to read the 05 basic serve rules.

Ping Pong serves rules for single matches
Ping Pong serves rules for single matches

Here are the most important serve rules for Singles in table tennis:

Now, let coach EmRatThich explains these service rules to you.


01 You can serve from everywhere to everywhere of the table

Unlike the serve rules for doubles, when playing singles, you don’t need to serve diagonally (like in doubles). You can serve in any way you want, whether diagonally or straight, from anywhere.



You can serve to everywhere - no need to be diagonal
You can serve to everywhere – no need to be diagonal


02 You must throw the ball up at least 6 inches (16 cm). (Rule 2.06.02).

A lot of players don’t throw high enough, so they either hit the ball right out of their hand or drop it and hit it quickly. It’s an illegal serve. This gives them an unfair advantage because it takes more skill and concentration to control a ball when it’s being thrown higher than when it’s being dropped.

If you don’t throw high enough, the umpire can use the VAR system in table tennis, to verify the height of your throw.

Is Timo Boll serve legal or not - reviewed by TTR
Is Timo Boll serve legal or not – reviewed by TTR


03 You must throw the ball “nearly straight up” (Rule 2.06.02)

You can throw the ball to the side or backward to you. It’s forbidden. People often throw the ball backward (away from the table) to get more underspin, but you should try to avoid doing this. Your throw should be mostly up and down, with very little movement in any horizontal direction.

You need to throw “nearly vertical”. What does “nearly vertical” means? That means that the throw angle must be smaller than 30 degree (based on ITTF regulation about the TTR system).

The throw angle of the service is not good 48 degree
The throw angle of the service is not good 48 degree
throw the ball upward and at least 16 cm
throw the ball upward and at least 16 cm


04 You have to hit the ball as it’s falling. (Rule 2.06.02)

You can’t hit the ball if it’s still going up after you throw it; it has to be going down before you hit it. It doesn’t have to fall all the way back to where you threw it, but it does have to go down. So if you throw it 16 cm high, if you hit it if it falls 2 cm from the top of the throw then it’s an illegal serve.

serve above the table with the palm open
serve above the table with the palm open


05 Serve after the end line of the table (Rule 2.06.04)

The whole serve, from throwing the ball to the first contact with the racket, must start behind the end line and above the table. Some players will start the toss with the ball already on the table, or they will hit the ball while it is over the table, both of which are against the rules.

serve behind the endline of the table
serve behind the endline of the table

Also, the height of the ball must always be above the table surface. If you start your throw below the table surface, you can’t end up with a really high throw.


06 During serve, you can’t hide the ball with your body or arm. (Rules 2.06.04 and 2.06.05)

The old rules said that you could leave your free arm in front of you to block the view of the receiver so that they couldn’t see what serve you were doing. Now, you have to take your free arm (and body) away so that the person getting the serve can see the ball the whole time. Hiding the ball with your head, shoulder, arm, during the serve is illegal in table tennis.

You can't hide the ball
You can’t hide the ball


Service rules for Doubles

What about the serve rules for doubles?

  • The service must go diagonally, from the right side of the server to the right side of the receiver. This keeps you from tripping up the other pair before they even hit a ball.
  • In doubles, each player must hit the ball once. This makes it hard to play doubles. It’s not similar to tennis.
  • When the service changes, the person who was the receiver before becomes the new server, and the person who was the server before becomes the receiver. So, everyone is sure to do everything. After eight points, you are back where you started.


Umpire hand signals for illegal serves

When you don’t follow these serve rules for Singles competition, you will be warned by the umpire. Do you understand all the umpire hand signals (specific gesture) for table tennis? Here I will explain it.

The umpire hand signals are very well explained by the official ITTF rules.

There are 8 umpire hand signals that every players and umpire need to learn and understand.

I’ve shown you some examples of the most used “illegal service” in table tennis. Here are some additional rules that you should know!

Sometimes the umpire won’t explain to you “word by word” how to serve. They just call a “fault serve” with their gestures. So here are the hand signals of the umpire about the serving rule that you understand!

Basic hand signal of the official table tennis umpire
Basic hand signal of the official table tennis umpire

Here are common table tennis serve faults (Based on the official ITTF Serving laws with Umpire Study Case)

  • Throwing not high enough
  • Palm is not open during the serve
  • Hidden serve
  • Throwing the ball behind the line
  • Throwing below the table
  • The ball rests on the palm
  • And serving inside the playing surface

1. Not high enough

To do the legal service, you need to throw the ball near vertically upwards, and at least 16cm after leaving your free arm.

This is how the umpire will explain your fault.

Her finger represents the ball, she can also say “Not High Enough”.

"Not High Enough" gesture from umpire
“Not High Enough” gesture from the umpire

2. Palm Not Open

You should hold the ball with an open palm. This rule is to avoid impact spin on the ball with your hand.

The ball shall not be hidden by the server body or by anything they wear or carry.

Palm Not Open - Table Tennis Rules
Palm Not Open – Table Tennis Rules

3. Hidden Serve

In general, the player uses his body to hide the “contact point”. Here are the 3 most common cases:

  • Hidden By Arm
  • By Shoulder
  • By Head

Hidden serve by the head, and shoulder is the most used trick, by top players. ITTF umpires should focus more on this aspect to keep the game fair.

The umpire will fold her arm to her body and can say “Hidden serve” by your body.

Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire
Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire

4. Ball toss below the table

You can not throw the ball from below the table. It against the official ITTF table tennis rules.

The umpire will use the finger (represent the ball), her palm open downward represents the table. And this hand signal means “ball below the table”.

Throwing the ball below the table is not legal in table tennis
Throwing the ball below the table is not legal in table tennis

5. Ball toss from below playing surface

In table tennis, you should serve with the ball above the table surface and behind the server’s end line.

The umpire gives the point for your opponent. She uses her finger to show the ball, her palm opens downward to show the table.

She could say “inside the end line”.

You are not allowed to hide your serve with the shoulder
You are not allowed to hide your serve with the shoulder

6. Ball toss from the inside playing surface

This fault is very common at the amateur level. Many new players throw the ball with their fingers! It’s not correct. The ball must stay on your palm, not your finger!

Don't serve inside the table surface. It's illegal
Don’t serve inside the table surface. It’s illegal

7. Ball resting on fingers

The umpire called a “fault serve”, and showed you that you throw the ball with your fingers. Her palm is open and upward which represents your free arm. Her finger shows the ball (which touches the fingers of your free arm).

Throwing the ball with your fingers is forbidden by ITTF
Throwing the ball with your fingers is forbidden by ITTF

8. Not Vertical

This is very subjective! ITTF didn’t cite how many angles (60 degrees, 80 degrees, etc) which is an accepted angle. So you should throw the ball “near” vertically!

Some umpire will say, it’s OK! But another one could say “Fault Serve”. So it depends!

During your serve, it's a fault serve if the ball is not vertical
During your service, it’s a fault serve if the ball is not vertical


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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

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