The following are observations on some of the common faults with services.
- The ball is not thrown near vertically upwards for a minimum of 16cms and allowed to begin to fall before being struck. Note the three separate requirements! Throwing the ball backwards onto the bat is possibly the most common fault.
- Serving ‘over the table’ is perhaps most prevalent amongst players learning the game. At all times before the ball is struck it must be behind the server’s end line (and also above the level of the table).
- The ball must be stationary at the start of the service. So, for instance, walking to the table and serving in one continuous motion is illegal. The ball must also be resting freely (not cupped) on the palm. You must give your opponent the opportunity to see and focus on the ball before service commences.
- Shielding the ball immediately before it is struck, ie. obscuring the opponent’s view of the ball (typically with the free arm), used to be common practice but is now illegal.
EXTRACTS FROM THE INTERNATIONAL TABLE TENNIS FEDERATION LAWS OF THE GAME
Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand.
The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.
As the ball is falling the server shall strike it so that it touches first his court and then, after passing over or around the net assembly, touches directly the receiver's court; in doubles, the ball shall touch successively the right half court of server and receiver.
From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension.
It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements for a correct service.
If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is doubtful of the legality of a service they may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server.
Any subsequent service of doubtful legality of that player or his doubles partner will result in a point to the receiver.
Whenever there is a clear failure to comply with the requirements for a correct service, no warning shall be given and the receiver shall score a point.
Exceptionally, the umpire may relax the requirements for a correct service where he is satisfied that compliance is prevented by physical disability.