Table tennis is one of the few sports that’s name is derived from another sport. Table tennis was invented in the late 1800’s as a parlor game, emulating lawn tennis matches played on dinner tables.
We could say that they share the same DNA. However, both have evolved enormously since their creation at around the same time, more than 130 years ago.
If you were to compare a tennis match and a table tennis match today, you’d think that they are completely different sports. In reality, they share the same essence. It’s this ambiguity that makes the comparison between lawn tennis and table tennis so interesting.
These similarities are very useful to analyze since both sports can learn from each other. The first theories about how to play table tennis came from tennis, and I believe that both sports can continue to take away useful concepts from each other.
|Are volleys allowed?
|Between 65.4 and 68.6 mm.
|Between 56 and 59.4 grams.
|8.23 meters for singles, and 10.97 meters for doubles.
|Game played to
|11 points with at least 2 points advantage. Otherwise, the game goes on until a player gets 2 points over the other.
|4 points with at least a point advantage over the opponent. Otherwise, the game goes on until a player gets 2 points over the other.
|Usually 3, 5, or 7.
|Between 12 and 39 for a 3-set match, between 18 and 65 for a 5-set match.
|Player serves again
|Player serves again.
|Player loses point.
|Player serves again (once).
|No. of serves per point
|1, if you don’t serve correctly, your opponent gets a point.
|2. If you miss your first serve, you get another.
|Possible different courts
|1, the table is always the same.
|3, clay, grass, or hard court.
|Every 2 points.
|Usually 3, 5, or 7. The correct terminology is “games”.
|Usually 3 or 5.
|Typical racket headsize
|36.5 square inches.
|100 square inches
|Typical racket weight
|170 – 195 grams.
|285 – 320 grams
|Typical racket material
|Wood + Carbon fibers (optional)
|Graphite + titanium, kevlar or fiberglass (optional)
To better understand the similarities between the two sports, I’d prefer that we begin analyzing the differences.
Differences between table tennis and tennis
The main difference between table tennis and tennis is that, due to the enormous differences in distances and sizes, both sports have evolved in radically different ways.
Skills and physical traits
Table tennis players don’t rely so much on their strength but rather on their ability to hit shots performing short, snappy strokes and recovering quickly, assuming an offensive playstyle.
Tennis players have to hit a much larger ball on a larger court with much greater force.
Because of this, elite tennis players are usually tall and strong. In table tennis, height and strength don’t matter much as the distances are very short, the ball is almost weightless at less than 3 grams and the equipment is very fast.
Japan’s Mima Ito stands at 1.52cm (5 feet) and she can hit the ball at such high speeds that it is sometimes difficult to track the ball.
The main abilities table tennis players need are reflexes, coordination, and the quick thinking needed to play shots with such little time to react.
Table tennis players, in a sense, play a sport that revolves almost purely around timing and reflexes.
Tennis players are usually stronger and taller players. They also require reflexes, but what they need most are endurance and physical strength. Tennis players need to be more well-rounded as they need to hit with more force and move for hours on end.
Table tennis matches, conversely, last only around 20 minutes, and players don’t need to move as much. I would say endurance in table tennis is important but anyone with normal fitness levels can play at a very high level.
Tennis players are runners before anything else, so it is much easier for a tennis player’s level to be limited by their physicality.
In table tennis if don’t move very well, but you’re otherwise a highly skilled player, you would still be a high-level player.
In tennis, it’d be nearly impossible for someone with little mobility to beat someone who moves exceptionally well.
This is, in my opinion, a great advantage of table tennis over lawn tennis. Not having as much distance to cover means that players with reduced mobility can compete with others with exceptional mobility since those with lesser speed can gain the upper hand in other aspects.
In table tennis, there is equipment such as anti and long pips that evens out the field if the player using it has a lot of tactical knowledge, spin lecture, and a lot of hand feeling.
Table tennis is one of the most inclusive sports. Being a young, fit player, I have been beaten by players with reduced mobility, 80-year-old grandpas, you name it!. There is nothing but respect on my end when these players manage to beat me.
Here’s the story of 88-year-old legend Pam Butcher, who could beat lots of players half a century younger than her!
If you prefer to run long distances, however, you’ll find lawn tennis more pleasing.
Sizes and lengths
In tennis, the ball weighs between 56 and 59.4 grams. The table tennis ball weighs 20 times less.
In tennis, the court measures 23.77 meters. In table tennis, the table is 8 to 9 times smaller.
Also, in tennis, a normal shot performed by an intermediate-level player travels at 70 km/h. If we shorten the distance between 8 and 9 times in table tennis, this is the result when hitting the ball at 70 km/h. Blink and you’ll miss it!
As we can see, reaction times and reflexes in table tennis are much more important.
A big difference between table tennis and tennis is the use of instincts and prediction.
In table tennis, we are constantly predicting where the opponent is going to hit the ball.
Having played so many points, and by reading the opponent’s body language, we can already get an idea of where their shot is going to go and react accordingly before they even hit the ball.
Tennis players don’t have to do this, for the most part. They do have to do it sometimes on serve receives, but generally not to the same extent as when playing rallies.
Another big difference between tennis and table tennis is that due to the shorter distances, all movements must be shortened.
It’s just that the game speed is much higher. The points last much less but are more explosive.
The third biggest difference I find between lawn tennis and table tennis is their popularity.
One would think that lawn tennis is much more popular than table tennis, but this is not necessarily the case.
In reality, table tennis has more than 3 times as many players as tennis. According to a report published in 2019 by the ITF, there are 87 million tennis players, while there are an estimated 300 million table tennis players in the world.
However, if you are reading this, chances are that lawn tennis is much more popular than table tennis in your country.
This has lots of repercussions. For many table tennis players, access to clubs is difficult, especially if they do not live in big cities.
Table tennis is very popular in Asian countries such as China, South Korea, and Japan. It is also popular in some European countries such as Germany and Sweden, but in most other countries, table tennis is not a major sport.
Tennis, on the other hand, is a popular sport in most countries of the world. It is much easier to find tennis courts than table tennis clubs in most parts of the world.
I would say that table tennis is not that widespread, but many play ping pong.
In most countries outside of Asia, ping pong is considered a recreational game and there is not as much diffusion at a sporting and professional level for table tennis as there is for other sports, like tennis.
Instead of spending more time discussing the differences, I would prefer to address the similarities between tennis and table tennis. These similarities are the ones that enable one sport to learn from the other.
Similarities between table tennis and lawn tennis
Since one sport is an adaptation of the other, there are many similarities between table tennis and lawn tennis. I’ll highlight the 3 most important similarities.
Balancing shot quality with mistakes
A big dilemma present in both sports is how to maximize the number of points won.
Some players prefer to play it safe and not make mistakes, while others prefer to hit the ball with a lot of quality to try to generate points for themselves, risking unforced mistakes.
The former style generates fewer points by itself but with fewer unforced mistakes. The latter generates more points by itself at a higher risk of committing unforced mistakes. There is no perfect strategy to win every table tennis match.
Finding the right balance, of course! We define quality as:
- Depth: In both sports, a ball that bounces deeper does more damage as it’s harder to counter than a ball that bounces in the middle of the court/table. Also, in both sports, you can play drop shots, which require a great ability to manipulate the depth of the shot.
- Placement: In both tennis and table tennis your placement plays a vital role in building points and keeping your opponent on the back foot.
- Speed: The speed at which the ball reaches your opponent is a crucial factor in maintaining the initiative and forcing mistakes out of your opponent. Also, changing the pace of your shots periodically will make them a lot more confusing to deal with.
- Spin: In both sports, the ball kicks when hit with topspin, and it bounces less when a venomous slice or amazing chop is performed!
All of these factors should be maximized while minimizing errors.
Take for example the “Greatest Of All Time” in Table Tennis, Ma Long, compared to the equivalent in tennis, Roger Federer.
Both players, in their prime, possessed a combination of all of the above plus the fact that they hardly made unforced mistakes. They’re powerful players with an incredible feel for the ball.
These players are clearly on another level than their competition. But even they could get more correct returns if they didn’t take many risky shots. However, they wouldn’t be the players they are without hitting high-risk, high-reward shots consistently.
That is why we say that in both sports the key to victory is knowing how to maximize the quality of the shots while minimizing unforced mistakes.
In both sports, the rules are quite simple. Fail to return the ball correctly and your opponent wins a point.
Some players interpret that to mean they will win if they always return the ball correctly, and others who interpret that they will win if they can force their opponent to not return the ball correctly.
In both sports, most players are offensive in nature.
However, there are many ways to get your opponent to not return the ball correctly. A spin-heavy slice or chop can be just as deadly as a smash or power loop.
Each player brings their own personal style to their sport. Nadal runs tirelessly and hits with a lot of topspin. Djokovic is a versatile and extremely well-rounded player. Medvedev places the ball sublimely and always hits it in a different way, confusing his opponents.
In table tennis, it’s the same story. Ma Long hits the ball incredibly hard so his opponent can’t hit him back. Lin Yun-ju will relentlessly attack, again and again, wearing his opponents down. Ruwen Filus will return the ball tirelessly every time.
Both sports are mentally tough. Table tennis and tennis are a mental battle against two people. Firstly, against oneself. Secondly, against the opponent.
The mental aspect is at least as important as the physical and technical qualities a player may have.
In both sports, celebrating points and not fading mentally is more important than anything else. Being on the right mindset is what will allow you to play your best game.
The moment a player loses their concentration or confidence, everything goes downhill from there.
If we analyze the 2 greatest players of all time, Ma Long and Federer, apart from their incredible ability, the other key attribute that comes to mind is their mental toughness.
They are both extremely motivated players who would do anything to win. They both play every match, every game, even every point as if it were their last. This is what allowed them to become the best in the history of their sports.
There may have been players just as talented as them, but what separates good players from the best of all is that their minds can think of nothing but victory.
In racket sports that face one player against the other, the player with the best mental game will usually win.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!