29 November 2021

London 2012: Bluffer’s guide to table tennis

July 9, 2012
London 2012: Bluffer’s guide to table tennis

Table tennis is played at high speed and players need lightning reactions, incredible agility and high levels of fitness in order to do well.

To anyone who witnessed China’s clean sweep of all four gold medals in Beijing, there is absolutely no reason to believe that anything will change in London. But whilst the extraordinary enthusiasm of the Chinese fans may be hard to replicate in the ExCel, it will still be one of the best shows at the Games.

Venue: ExCel

Date: 28 July – 8 August

Jargon buster

Shakehands: style of grip favoured by Western players, so called because you hold the paddle as if ready to perform a handshake.

Penhold: grip popular in Asia, so called because you hold the paddle as if holding a pen.

Blade: The flat, rigid part of the racket used for striking the ball.

Loop: An attacking shot, often played with plenty of topspin.

Let: As well as service lets (similar to tennis), a let may be called if play is interrupted – for example, by a ball from another table entering the playing area. If this happens, the rally is replayed.

Time-out: Each player may claim a time-out of up to one minute during an individual match.

Basic rules

The aim of the game is to keep the ball in play for longer than your opponent, so it relies on tactics similar to those used in tennis.

The service changes after every two points have been scored. Once the score gets to 10–10, the serve changes after every point. In doubles games, as well as the serve alternating between teams, it alternates between players too.

Singles matches are played over the best of seven games, with the first player to eleven (by a margin of two) winning each game. In team matches, four singles matches and one doubles match are played, each decided by the best of five games.

Both disciplines are run in a knockout format with players and teams going through to the finals where the medals will be decided.

It is estimated during a rally the average speed of a ball is 25mph, meaning that it can travel the length of a table in a quarter of a second. Serves travel at around 60mphs.

One to watch

Joanna Parker. As far as domestic titles go, Parker has won every national title at both senior and junior level. The England number two also took a bronze in mixed doubles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games but based on China’s track record, winning a medal at London 2012 looks extremely unlikely for Joanna.

Olympic rivalry?

China – the nation dominates table tennis with the Chinese women winning all three medals in the singles event in Beijing. Four of the world’s top six female players are from China.

Who’s the gold medal favourite?


Who to follow on twitter…



Table tennis Olympic fact

In the six editions of the Games since the sport was introduced to the Olympic programme at Seoul 1988, China has won more medals than all the other nations put together.

There is a slight dent in their invincibility though – the Singapore women’s team became the first to defeat the Chinese in nine editions of the World Championships in Moscow 2010.

The Women’s Sports Magazine


You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Select a sport

Find out how to get started, training plans and expert advice.