Table Tennis Doubles Rules

Table Tennis Doubles – Player Guide & Rules

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If you thought playing singles in Table Tennis was hard, playing doubles is a whole different ball game. There are additional rules, tactics and twice the amount of people on each side of the table to deal with. 

I love playing doubles because it adds a really fun teamwork element to Table Tennis, working together with my partner to overcome the opposition. So, let’s explore everything you need to know to get playing Table Tennis doubles!

How is Table Tennis Doubles different from Singles?

Playing with another player on the same team takes some time to get used to. You need to establish a good partnership that’ll take teamwork and making up for your partner’s weaknesses. 

Doubles isn’t the easiest at the beginning but once you find your rhythm, it’ll get faster and more exciting. Watch any doubles match and you’ll find it tricky to keep up with who’s actually hitting the ball – blink and you’ll very quickly lose track. 

The rules and play style are also quite different, so here’s a handy 4-point guide to the main differences:

  1. Players always serve diagonally from the right side of the table.
  2. In a rally, players need to make alternate shots on each team.
  3. When changing service (every 2 points), the new receiving team switch sides of the table.
  4. The quality / direction of your shot heavily impacts the kind of shot your partner will receive.

So, if you’ve never played doubles before, I’m about to tell you everything you need to know. If you need, you can also catch up on the full rules of table tennis.

Important Table Tennis Doubles Rules

1. Serve Diagonally

In Table Tennis Doubles, your service always needs to travel from ”right to right”. You’re not allowed to send a serve any other way.  

It’s simple enough – you serve from the right quadrant of your team’s court, diagonally across to the right quadrant of the opposing team’s court. If the ball fails to land in either your right quadrant, or your opponent’s right quadrant, the service is called a fault and your opponent wins that point.

Occasionally, people will disagree on whether the ball landed inside the receiver’s quadrant. If this happens when you’re playing, it’s common courtesy to call a let and replay the point. If it keeps happening, get yourself an impartial umpire to stand on the sidelines and watch out for where the ball is landing.

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2. Order of Serving and Receiving

Each player gets two consecutive serves. 

When a player on one team finishes their two serves, they will switch places with their partner while the opposing team gets ready to serve. So, the team going to receive switches place unlike the team going to serve. 

Now, this can become a bit confusing so let’s explain things with an example. 

Say we have a team consisting of Alexander and Beatrice against a team with Candice and Derek. 

We’ll first have Alexander serving to Candice. When he’s done with his two serves, he will switch places with his partner, Beatrice while the service spot goes to Candice. On the other hand, because Candice’s team is getting ready to serve. 

Now we know how things will go from here. Candice will serve twice to Beatrice. After her two serves are done, she’ll switch places with her partner Derek who will get ready to receive serves from Beatrice and so on.

The exact same sequence is strictly followed until the end of the game. Here’s an awesome visual guide from Table Tennis England.

To remove any doubt, here’s how the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) define serving order:

In doubles, at each change of service the previous receiver shall become the server and the partner of the previous server shall become the receiver.

3. Alternative Shots

Ever come across a doubles game on the TV where a player on the same team had to practically jump out of the way to let their partner return an incoming ball? 

That’s because, in table tennis doubles, players on the same team return the ball in alternating hits. Players on the same team are not allowed to consecutively return a ball or their team will lose that point. 

Therefore, it becomes really important for players to make space once they hit the ball so that their partner has the opportunity to make the best return they can. 

As you will realize, great footwork and speed are some of the core ingredients to a good doubles partnership. 

4. Changing Ends

After each game, teams will switch their sides of the court. Following up on our example, you’ll notice that in the previous game, Alexander served first to Candice. 

With the changing of ends, at the start of the next game, Candice will serve to Alexander. Once Candice is finished with her two serves, she’ll switch with her partner, Derek who will go on to receive Alexander’s serves and so on. 

Notice how everyone is serving to a different person from the previous game!

The team that served first in the previous game will be the first receivers in the new game and vice versa. 

5. Final Set Changeover

This rule is applicable only if the match reaches a final deciding set. When one team scores 5 points, a changeover takes place and teams will swap their sides of the court, as well as the person they are serving to. 

If the team of Alexander-Beatrice served at the start of the set and are leading with 5-4, they will switch their sides of the table. At the same time, the opposing team will switch receivers. So, if Alexander had served to Candice at the beginning of the game, his next serve would be to Derek after the changeover. 

This changeover allows a fair winning chance to both teams, irrespective of playing conditions such as lighting, flooring and even team compositions. 

If you’re only used to playing singles, some of these rules, especially the alternating hits, can be tricky to grasp. You might find yourself accidentally moving to do consecutive hits. 

Still confused? I love the way Jeff and Alois explain the serving rules on this video, which will help any visual learners out there.

Like we said though, it’s a matter of time and a good partnership that’ll help you get better at table tennis doubles. To start winning, we have some advice for you if you keep on reading.

How to WIN when playing Table Tennis Doubles

The rules are all said and done but let’s figure out the good stuff – winning. Here, I’ll share the general rules you need to know to win a double match, as well as some useful tips and tricks to gain an advantage over your opponents.

1. Winning a game or set

The first team to reach 11 points wins the game. If both teams are locked at 10 points each, the game will be won by the team that gets ahead by 2 points. 

2. Winning a match

Matches are typically a best out of 3 or a best out of 5. Your team will need to win 2 out of 3 games in a best of 3, or 3 out of 5 games in a best out of 5. 

3. Having a great partnership

This goes without saying and is something we’ve mentioned multiple times in this article. A great partnership is key to winning any table tennis doubles game. 

After all, it takes knowing each other’s moves to set up a rhythm when taking alternative hits and giving enough space for your partner to play their best shots. It also takes knowing your partner’s strengths and weaknesses, especially when serving, which will strongly affect how your opponent returns the ball. This way, you can give your partner more options for their first shot in the rally. 

4. Signals and Service

Signals are another ingredient to building a good partnership. They’re normally done prior to service, under the table so that it’s visible only to your partner. Signals are vital to improving your team’s chances of winning a point since they allow the server to indicate the type of serve that their about to take. 

They’re perfect for setting up your partner’s third stroke. Maybe your partner is weak at backhand –  forcing the opponent to return the ball in a particular path will make up for your partner’s weaknesses. In a way, your service can decide who takes that point.

5. A Strong First Return 

While a strong serve can be important, a strong return can help your team win the point. 

The advantage of returning a ball in doubles is that you don’t have to worry about where the ball might go on the table. This means you can stand prepared for the serve and play a more confident shot. 

Make sure to keep an eye on your opponent’s starting position. A powerful trick would be aiming for the server when returning the hit. This will make your opponents’ lives very tricky since the server would need to get out of the way to make way for their partner.   

If you find yourself struggling with the game, work with your partner and coach (if you have one) to establish your play style and strategies. With doubles, it’s often the best pairing that wins rather than the best individual players. 

Practise will get you there, as will this guide, and who knows – you might never return to playing singles in table tennis again. 

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The Controller

David's been playing Table Tennis since he was 12, earning his first coaching license in 2012. He's played in national team & individual competitions, although he prefers the more relaxed nature of a local league match! After earning his umpiring qualification in England, David moved to Australia and started Racket Insight to share information about the sport he loves.

Blade: Stiga WRB Offensive Classic | Forehand: Calibra LT | Backhand: Xiom Musa
Playstyle: All-Round Attacker

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