What Is An Illegal Serve In Ping Pong

What Is An Illegal Serve In Ping Pong

Last modified: October 15, 2023

Ping pong, also known as table tennis, is a sport enjoyed by millions around the world, both casually at home, in clubs, at school, and professionally. One of the key aspects that separates a skilled player from a novice is understanding and mastering the art of serving. Here, we are specifically going to investigate a critical part of the game: the serve, and specifically, what constitutes an illegal serve in ping pong.

Understanding the Basics of a Legal Serve

Before we delve into the intricacies of an illegal serve, it’s vital to clearly establish what constitutes a legal serve in this game. By defining this, we’ll have a better understanding of what can potentially make a serve illegal.

Service Motion

The serving motion starts by placing the ping pong ball flat on the server’s open palm. The ball must has to be behind the end line and above the level of the playing surface during service. Thereafter, the server must throw the ball upwards, almost vertically and at least 16cm high from the palm, which must be open and stationary.

Contacting the Ball

After the ball is tossed into the air, the server must strike it as it falls, before it hits anything else (including their body or clothing), in such a way that first, it touches their own side and then, after clearing the net (with or without touching it), touches directly the receiver’s side of the table.

Execution of the Serve

In executing the serve, you must make sure that your free arm is not blocking the vision of your opponent. This rule was created to avoid clever servers who could disguise the serve and make it unreadable to return.

What Makes a Serve Illegal?

Having understood the elements of a legal serve, any deviation from these rules results in what we term an ‘illegal serve’. There are a few common mistakes that can make your serve be called illegal in a ping pong game.

Incorrect Ball Placement

If the server uses their fingers to bounce the ball or fails to toss it at least 16cm into the air, the serve is deemed illegal. Similarly, if the ball is not first contacted behind the table’s baseline or above table-level, it is an illegal serve.

Ball Contact and Landing

Should the ball, once served, land anywhere else apart from the opponent’s side of the table or if it hits any other object or person before it does, the serve is considered illegal. Similarly, if the ball doesn’t first bounce on the server’s side before bouncing on the opponent’s side, it’s deemed an illegal serve.

Obstructed View

Both players must be able to see the ball during the serve. If the server attempts to obscure the receiver’s view of the serve with their body or clothing, the serve is counted as illegal.

Improving Your Serve in Ping Pong

Serve rules in table tennis are strict and rightly so. The serve is a fundamental aspect of the game and has a huge impact on the overall competitiveness of a match. Note that even professional players, at times, make illegal serves.

Practicing Legal Serves

Regular practice is the best way to enhance your serve. Always aim to serve in a way that puts you in a favourable position for the next shot whilst following all the required rules of a legal serve.

Understanding Errors and Rectifying Them

Getting your serve called out as illegal is not necessarily a bad thing if you take it as a learning opportunity. Understand why it was deemed illegal and work on refining your technique to avoid repeating the same mistake.

Watch and Learn From the Pros

One of the best ways to improve your serve is to watch professional table tennis players. Observe the way they serve during matches. Their precision, technique, and way of effecting spin on the ball can be inspiring and informative.


Mastering the serve in table tennis is crucial for anyone aspiring to elevate their game. While understanding what an illegal serve is important, learning how to execute a perfect legal serve is what will make the difference. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep serving and keep refining your game.

Additional Ping-Pong Resources:
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