Best Illegal Serves in Table Tennis

The Best Illegal Ping Pong Serves

In Table Tennis, it is very important to abide by the regulations. Table Tennis has a lot of rules that must be followed so that the sport is fair and the competition is healthy.

In particular, there are some complex service rules that must be followed. However, it’s fun to break the rules every once in a while and try serves that don’t meet the established standards.

We’ll share the most efeective illegal table tennis serves so you can try them out against friends.

What makes a table tennis serve legal?

To be legal, a table tennis serve must meet certain requirements, which we can quickly summarise here:

The service must start behind the table and above table height.

You must present the ball with a still open palm. Also, you should check certain things before you serve, like that the ball is dry and that your opponent is ready.

The ball must be thrown at least 16cm high and as vertical as possible before being struck whilst falling.

While the ball is in the air, you cannot block its flight path at any time with your racket, body, or free arm. As soon as you throw the ball, you must withdraw the free arm as quickly as possible.

Once you’ve made contact, the ball has to bounce once on your side and once on your opponent’s side. 

These rules are designed to prevent serving in a way that’s unfair to your opponent. SOmetimes though, you might want to be a bit unfair to your friends.

Why should I learn illegal serves?

If you can’t use illegal table tennis services in a match, then why would you want to learn them?

Because they are great fun! Who doesn’t like to break the rules every once in a while?

It is great fun to end serious training with for-fun matches, such as playing with the non-skilled hand, without rules, bigger tables and various other more relaxed versions of table tennis.

Table tennis is all about having fun, so why not deliver one of these serves to a friend of yours to laugh at their failed attempt to return the ball.

The best illegal table tennis serves

Since there are no rules, possibilities are endless! This will be a list of our favourite illegal serves. Serves that we’ve tried (and occasionally failed) when messing around with our friends at club nights over the years.

Pongfinity created an awesome video sharing illegal table tennis serves. We tried to film our own version but honestly didn’t come close to the production qualit of Pongfinity.

So, just enjoy their version!

Once you’ve decided who serves first, give one of these serves a try.

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1) Out of the hand

The quintessential illegal service is out of the hand.

It’s the typical garage player serve that people use before they learn the rules of table tennis. Especially useful if your opponent isn’t ready, this is one of the most effective illegal serves.

Since you are hitting a stationary ball rather than a falling ball, it’s much easier to generate fast topspin that catapults the ball forward in any direction you want. 

To perform it to its full potential, do it as quickly as possible and your opponent will have no chance to react.

2) Hidden behind the body

Another of the most popular illegal services was legal until 2003, but this rule was changed because it was too difficult for receivers to read the spin coming towards them. However, that doesn’t matter to us!

In this service, you can cover the ball with your head, your torso, or more commonly your non-skilled arm.

If you cover up the moment of impact, your opponent won’t know what kind of spin the ball is carrying, and this is what makes it such a deadly serve.

3) Thrown horizontally

This illegal service is one of the most common and also very effective.

By throwing the ball towards your racket you get a lot more acceleration, and therefore a lot more spin.

The amounts of spin that can be generated with this service are such that it is practically impossible for opponents to return correctly.

4) Over the table

This is probably the most “cheating” serve of all. Simply throw and contact the ball whilst over the table.

Since your contacting the ball much closer to the net, you have many more options for playing a short serve, or give your opponent no time to react with a long serve.

When combined with serving out of your hand, it becomes extremely hard to return any of these serves.

5) Multi-ball Serve

This service is one of my favorites. To do this, you must throw a ball up whilst pretending that’s the ball you’ll be serving with.

Then, out of nowhere, you serve a different ball out of your hand. A nefarious move when your opponent is watching your first ball in the air. 

If you can prepare for this serve without giving away the fact you have 2 balls in your hand, your opponent won’t know what just happened.

6) Opponent not prepared

Serving when the opponent is not ready is a classic piece of table tennis jokery. 

It’s especially amusing if their busy chatting to someone else, or just walking towards the table so they can see what you’re doing but can’t do anything to stop you.

It’s also a great hint that they should speed up and get ready for the next points quicker. It is the ideal serve to use against players who take a long time between points.

7) Special ball serve

If we think about it, on an illegal serve, the ball can be anything! Why stick to a normal ping pong ball?

Grab whatever object you can think of and serve with it. Then have your opponent try to return it. That’s their problem, not yours.

One of my favorite serves is with a broken ball, preferably with a sizeable dent in it. The ball won’t bounce straight on the other side and you’ll win a free point every time.

8) Using the walls and ceiling

When serving illegally, the venue opens up countless possibilities. WIth no rules involved, why would the ball even need to hit your side of the table first?

You can throw the ball against the ceiling to make the ball drop faster, or hit it against the wall to generate more complicated angles. It’s up to you! 

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The Controller
Alvaro Munno - Table Tennis Player & Author

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!

Blade: Butterfly Fan Zhendong ALC | Forehand: Butterfly Dignics 09c | Backhand: Butterfly Rozena
Playstyle: The Controller

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