Top 5 Illegal Serve In Table Tennis

Table tennis is a special sport. You can win this game by doing the illegal serve. By knowing the top 5 most common illegal service in table tennis, you can ask the opponent stop doing these serves. First, we will talk about what is a legal serve. Then the most used illegal serve in table tennis to know and avoid.

What is a legal serve?

Based on official rules, the ball must rest on an open hand palm. Then it must be tossed up at least 16cm. If the serve touches the net, it is called a let serve (not “net serve”). Let serves are legal but not scored and need to be served again.

Here are the table tennis service rules you need to know:

  1. You must toss the ball upward at least 16cm. (Rule 2.06.02). Some players just quick drop-and-hit, this is an illegal serve.
  2. Your toss must be “near vertically upward” (Rule 2.06.02) It’s common to see players throwing the ball backward. But how is “near vertical”? It depends on Referee.
  3. You cannot hide the ball with your body or arm during the serve. (Rule 2.06.04 and 2.06.05). You must remove your free arm (and body) so that the receiver has the full view of the ball. Hidden serve in common in table tennis, especially used by the left-hand player.
  4. The service must start behind the end line and above the table surface. (Rule 2.06.04). Some players toss with the ball inside the table or strike the ball over the table, which is illegal.
  5. You must strike the ball as it is on its way down. (Rule 2.06.02). You can’t hit the ball as it’s on the rise from your toss.

You can read the full official service rules in the ITTF Rulebooks.

5 Most Common Illegal Serve in Table Tennis

What is an illegal serve in table tennis? There are many types of illegal services: quick serve, hidden serve, low toss serve, back toss serve, over the table serve, or bad-manner services, etc. Let’s resume the 5 most used illegal serve.

  1. Hidden serve
  2. Throw in and No toss serve
  3. Quick serve (bad manner)
  4. Time abused serve
  5. In the table serve

1. Hidden serve:

Hidden serve is the most common illegal serve in table tennis. The player uses his free arm or his body to hide the contact point. It’s difficult to see if this was a topspin serve, a no spin float serve, or a backspin serve. Hidden serve was allowed before but ITTF changed the rule. The best way to counter this illegal serve is asking the player, or the referee to stop hiding the serve.

hidden serve the most common illegal serve in table tennis
hidden serve the most common illegal serve in table tennis

2. Throw in serve and low toss serve:

Some players (especially amateur level) don’t throw the ball high enough. They just throw the ball directly to the blade. This makes the unfair advantages for the server: faster ball, and spinner serve. You should complain to the referee or refuse to continue to play if the opponent does this illegal serve.

Player throws the ball into the racket to make faster serve
Player throws the ball into the racket to make faster serve

3. Quick serve (bad manner serve):

The 3rd illegal serve that many players use during the tournament is “quick serve”. The opponent is not ready, and then they serve quickly (normally the fast one down the line). This is a bad-manner serve. Please wait for the opponent to be in the ready position.

If you get this “bad-manner serve”, don’t accept the score, don’t play this ball. Ask the opponent to redo the service.

Read the “Table Tennis Etiquette – top 15 Unwritten rules that every player should know”.

Bad manner Quick serve when the opponent is not ready
Bad manner Quick serve when the opponent is not ready

4. Taking too long time to serve

There is no rule to restrict the time that a player must serve. But some player tried to reduce the pace of the game, or the perturb the opponent by taking too long time to serve. They changed several positions, pick up the ball slowly, and try to delay the match.

If you are in this situation, stay calm. Focus on the game. Ask the referee, and win the point. If you do that, the opponent knows that their trick won’t work, and stop doing these stupid illegal serves.


Player takes too long time before serve to disrupt the opponent
Player takes too long time before serve to disrupt the opponent

5. In the table serve:

The last common illegal serve is in the table serve. The ball is inside the table, which is not legal. This trick will help to make a super short serve. Don’t accept the point, and ask the referee about this case. Ask the server to put the ball outside the table.

"Inside table serve" very short and tricky serve
“Inside table serve” very short and tricky serve

Have you encountered other examples of “illegal serve” in table tennis? Let me know by commenting below. Let’s play fair! Stop doing the illegal serve, it’s not fun at all. Please learn how to serve effectively in table tennis, rather than doing the tricky illegal serve.

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