Do You Have to Serve Diagonally in Singles Table Tennis?

By Kimberly


My family and I like to play table tennis because it’s fun and easy to participate in, but at first, we weren’t sure whether we should serve diagonally or not. The players must serve diagonally in regular tennis, but is it the same in table tennis?

It’s not strictly necessary to serve diagonally in singles table tennis; but in doubles table tennis, you must serve diagonally. When serving, the ball must bounce once on the server’s side and then travel across the net.

In the rest of this article, we will discuss how to serve while playing singles table tennis in more detail. If you want to learn more about this, be sure to read on.

An image of a Table tennis female player with a racket and ball.

How Do You Serve in Ping Pong Singles?

It’s not necessary to serve diagonally in singles ping pong (table tennis). The server is only required to serve diagonally when playing ping pong if it’s a doubles match. The server must ensure that the ball is always visible to the other player when serving.

It’s essential to follow the service rules in ping pong for the best and fairest experience. Below are some guidelines when it comes to serving in singles ping pong:

  • The server must always ensure that the ball is visible to the receiver. The server should never hide it, as this counts as a fault. Plus, it’s just bad form and cheater-y.
  • The ball should be thrown vertically up to at least 16 cm high and should be hit by the server on the way down.
  • Unlike in doubles ping pong, the ball does not have to be hit diagonally in a singles game. If it’s within range, it’s a legal serve.
  • The ball should stay behind the table’s baseline when serving.
  • If the ball hits the net during a serve, it is known as a let serve.

That being said, most singles players will assume that you have to serve diagonally, so it’s considered “good form” to adhere to it. However, it isn’t required, which is kinda fun for when things are heated and you need to spice things up to get ahead of your sister already.

When Playing Singles Table Tennis, Should You Serve the Ball Diagonally to Your Opponent?

It’s not necessary to serve diagonally to your opponent in singles table tennis. The server must throw the ball vertically and should only hit it on the way down. If the server does not follow the service rules, the point may go to the other player.

It’s fun to have options when playing table tennis, so take advantage of things and have fun. Always play fairly, though.

Do You Always Have to Follow Service Rules in Table Tennis?

Whether the rules should be followed or not depends on if you’re playing professionally or just for fun. If playing for fun, the rules can be ignored if all players agree to change the rules. If playing professionally, the rules must be followed.

My kids, for example, find it much easier to serve “illegally” because they have trouble holding the ball in their little hands while keeping it open at the same time. Since we don’t play professionally, we don’t mind ignoring the open palm rule.

It’s also common for players to develop the habit of serving illegally, so they find it much more challenging when they try to serve legally.

To avoid disagreements (trust me, it can get very heated!), make sure everyone agrees on the rules before playing the game. You can make up your own rules, but it’s always best if everyone is on the same page.

Pro tip: When playing for fun, the service rules don’t always have to be followed in table tennis, as long as both parties agree to it before the match.

An image of a female athlete playing table tennis.

For a serve in table tennis to be considered legal, it must follow all the service rules. All the following aspects must be played correctly for a service to be considered legal:

  • Ball toss
  • Visible ball (ball must be in an open palm)
  • Serve from behind the baseline

Ball toss

When serving legally in table tennis, the server must toss the ball up at least 16 cm high. If the server ignores this rule, the service will be illegal, and the opponent may get the point.

Additionally, the ball should be hit on the way down rather than on the way up.

Visible ball

One of the most important aspects of a legal service in table tennis is the ball’s visibility. The server should be holding the ball in an open palm and should not try to conceal the ball at any point during service.

The server should not lean into the ball to conceal it with their body, nor should they grip the ball with their hands in a way that makes it not visible to the opponent. It is essential to follow these rules for a fair and legal service.

Serve from behind the baseline

The server must always ensure that they stay behind the baseline on the table. So, although the server doesn’t have to worry about hitting the ball diagonally, they do have to pay attention to the positioning when serving.

Can the Ball Hit the Net During a Serve in Table Tennis?

If the ball hits the net during a service in table tennis, it is regarded as a let serve, and it must be done over. If the ball hits the net after a serve but during a rally, it is valid and does not disrupt the game. A let serve isn’t the same as an illegal serve because an illegal serve cannot be done over.

So, if you’re in the middle of an intense rally and hit the ball on the net, don’t worry; you can play on without interrupting the game!

Is Serving in Singles Table Tennis Different from Serving in Doubles?

Serving in singles table tennis is different from serving in doubles. In doubles, service must be diagonal from the right side of the court. In singles, service does not have to be diagonal. However, the ball must be thrown vertically in both singles and doubles table tennis.

Some service rules are the same for singles and double table tennis, but other rules differ. In singles and doubles, the ball is always required to be visible to the receiver.

In doubles, the server must hit the ball to the player who is diagonal to them. For each service, the players should alternate positions.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

The most important things to remember when it comes to serving in table tennis are to keep the ball visible and to throw it vertically. Now that you know how to serve in table tennis, you can have fun playing with friends and family!

But if you’d rather play something a little more intense (or maybe less intense) with your friends and family, then Let’s Compare: Badminton, Tennis, Table Tennis, and Pickleball. That way, you’ll know exactly which paddle (or racket) sport y’all should play next. Spoiler alert: table tennis is an awesome choice, but don’t rule out pickleball.

An image of two table tennis game practices. Sports concept.


Learning from your own experiences is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as a family of sports nuts wannabes.

  • “Official Rules of Table Tennis.” PongFit,  Accessed 12 Jan. 2022.
  • “Ping Pong Singles Rules.” Okbu.Edu, Accessed 12 Jan. 2022.

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