Unusual things table tennis players do

Explaining 6 Unusual Things Table Tennis Players Do

Table tennis is a sport unlike any other. Most of us don’t live in countries where table tennis is a popular sport, so we haven’t had as much exposure to the sport in our lives as we did with other sports such as football, tennis, etc.

Hence, many things that table tennis players do may seem strange to us. For some of them, you might not understand the meaning. Why do they do these weird things?

We have come up with 6 unusual things that table tennis players do and we will explain them one by one. You will find out that many of these things players do are actually quite useful, and you could even incorporate them yourself!

1) Why do Table Tennis players blow on their fingers and racket?

It is very common to see table tennis players blowing on their hands, rackets, and even the ball.

In table tennis, rubbers have a lot of grip, and players expect nothing but the best from their rackets.

Table tennis players train for hours on end with the same racket, and they know that given its characteristics, they must hit the ball in a certain way and at a certain angle to get the shot they want.

The main reason players blow on their racket is that balls get dusty, and this dust is passed onto the rubbers, which makes them lose their grip. Also, new balls are used in every match of international tournaments, and they leave plastic residue on the rubbers.

This residue/dust causes the rubber to lose grip, so once every couple of points players will blow on their rackets, which moistens the rubber. Moistening the rubber with your breath makes it easy to clean dust particles.

Players will then wipe off any dust on the rubbers with their hands, and their rackets will be ready to play the next points.

A picture of Timo Boll Cleaning His Racket.
A picture of Timo Boll Cleaning His Racket.
Timo Boll cleaning his racket.

This is especially important with tacky rubbers. Chinese players use sticky rubbers that attract lots of dust particles, so you will see them wipe their racket once every few points.

As for the ball, many players blow on the ball when it gets wet. Players’ hands usually start to sweat when playing, and so do their clothes. Many times the ball will get wet, so by drying it with your shirt and then blowing on it you can remove most of the moisture from the ball.

A picture of a player blowing on the ball to remove most of the moisture from it.
Source: WTT

Humidity is one of the most important factors in table tennis. If the humidity is very high or the ball is wet, rubbers won’t grip properly, so it is very important to always make sure that the ball is dry and that your rubbers are clean before playing out points.

Sometimes your opponent will serve and the ball will just slip from your racket onto the net. 

It’s very evident when the ball is wet. If you can see a water mark on your rubber where your racket hit the ball, you can, and should, ask for the point to be played again. It’s the server’s responsibility to keep the ball dry.

Lastly, table tennis players will blow on their hands to dry them. It’s very important that your playing hand is dry to have a good hold on the racket, and having a dry non-playing hand is also very important because it is the hand with which you toss the ball to serve.

That’s why you’ll see players blowing on their hands, it’s to try and get rid of any moisture they may have. They will also dry their hands with towels every 6 points.

If you didn’t know, you can use your towel every 6 points, neither before nor after that, so pay attention to when the sum of the points earned by both players reaches a multiple of 6 to dry your hands with your towel.

It sounds complicated but if you start doing it, then you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

2) Why do table tennis players keep touching the table?

Another habit table tennis players have is drying their hands on the table. As using the towel is only allowed every 6 points, players must dry their hands in another way to continue playing.

A picture of a player drying his hands on the table.

If you pay attention, you will see the wet spot on the table after Ma Long dried his hand.

A picture of a player drying his hands on the table.

Generally, players will dry their hands in a place on the table where the ball practically never bounces, that is why players usually dry their hands near the net.

It is very difficult for the ball to bounce that close to the net, so players use that space on the table to dry their hands.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, many tournaments asked players to stop drying on the table tops, so many players got into the habit of drying their hands on the sides of the table.

A picture a player drying his hands on the side of the table.
Source: WTT

Also, for most of us, wiping our hands on the table is part of a routine between points.

Table tennis is a very special sport because points are incredibly fast-paced but tactics are very important.

You can use these moments when you blow on the ball, bounce the ball, and wipe your hand on the table to think about the development of the game and your tactics for the next point.

It is crucial that you think between points, and drying your hands on the table, among other things, not only gives you time to think, but also resets your mental status.

If you lose a point, dry your hands on the table, walk around the table, reset your mental state and think about tactics.

3) Why do table tennis players throw the ball so high when they serve?

We now turn to a technical decision: High-toss serves.

One of the players known for his high-toss serve is Hugo Calderano, who throws the ball many meters above his head to serve.

A picture of Hugo Calderano doing his high-toss serve
Source: 박PD

Why do they do this? Isn’t it much more complicated to have control over a serve in which you throw the ball so high?

Yes, it is more complicated to control, but the great advantage of throwing the ball higher is that the ball meets your racket while carrying much more speed. If you have enough hand feeling, you can put much more spin on the ball if you toss the ball higher.

We recommend that you try it yourself. Practice your usual serves while tossing the ball higher. You will notice two things, firstly, that your serves have more spin, and secondly, that your serves will bounce farther.

If you can brush the ball very thinly, then you can use the additional speed to create spin while keeping the ball short. You do have to practice this technique to get it right, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

A great strategy is having some low toss serves and some high toss serves.

If you can master both serving styles, your opponent will have to get used to very different types of serves, which is a lot more difficult than just adapting to one of the two. The spin levels and the timing of both serves will be quite different.

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4) Why do table tennis players stomp when serving?

A picture of Ma Long practicing serves.
Ma Long practicing serves.
Source: ttlondon

Speaking of serving, there’s another quirky technique that all table tennis players do: stomping.

Many players believe that this is done to distract the opponent, but they couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is done primarily to disguise the spin on the ball, along with a few lesser-known reasons table tennis players stomp when serving.

You see, if you impact the ball, it will make a loud sound, right?

But if you brush the ball, there will be no sound.

As players make variations of services with a lot of spin and others that are no-spin, the ones with a lot of spin won’t make any noise because players brush the ball. No spin and topspin serves, on the other hand, do make sound, because they’re hit instead of brushed.

If you were playing against someone who served without stomping, you could tell by the sound whether the serve carried heavy spin or no spin at all.

Now, if that same person serves, makes a backspin serve motion, but at the moment of impact, they hit with the ball while stomping, everything would indicate that this serve is a backspin serve when in fact it is no spin.

The only indication that this serve is no spin would be the noise, which is covered by stomping at the moment of impact.

That is why serving strategies that incorporate both heavy backspin and no-spin serves are so effective.

If you always serve heavy backspin, your opponent will get used to it and they’ll simply push it back.

But if you serve some heavy backspin serves, and some no-spin serves, then your opponent will dump the heavy backspin serves in the net and they’ll pop up the no-spin ones, leading to easy opportunities to attack.

While playing, try to understand how your opponent is receiving your serves. Maybe they like to push serves, in which case, you will serve mainly no-spin, which they’ll pop up. If they like to flick serves, you can serve heavy backspin to make your serves more difficult to attack.

All of these strategies would not be possible without stomping.

5) Why do table tennis players shout after winning a point?

A picture of a Table Tennis player shouting a point.
Source: WTT

This is another behavior that may surprise those who come from other sports and are not used to it.

Table tennis players shout after winning points to encourage themselves and to show their opponent that they are playing to win.

Shouting points puts more pressure on the opponent and boosts your morale, which in such a fast-paced sport, matters a lot.

In case you were wondering, most players yell out the word “cho” which is disambiguation of the phrase “hao cho”, which means “good shot” in Mandarin.

According to a survey we conducted on Reddit, shouting is accepted by 90% of table tennis players, so it’s not bad etiquette. Just don’t shout every point from the top of your lungs and you should be fine.

I draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not when I realize that my opponent is simply shouting to annoy me. If my opponent is shouting to cheer himself up, that’s perfectly fine, but I can’t stand players who shout just to irritate their opponents.

That’s why lots of players don’t like Tomokazu Harimoto. They find his shouting to be excessive, and frankly, I can see why.

6) Why do table tennis players apologize after winning a point?

A picture of Timo Boll signaling he’s sorry after hitting a hand switch shot.
Timo Boll signaling he’s sorry after hitting a hand switch shot.
Source: WTT

There are plenty of reasons why table tennis players will apologize to their opponents. Here are 5 reasons people say sorry:

Nets and edges.

The most common reason for apologizing is when you hit the ball and it clips the net or the edge of the table. This is seen as a fortuitous event, making you win the point by luck and not because you were better.

Hence, it is practically mandatory that you raise your hand, your index finger, the racket, or simply say sorry.

It doesn’t matter if the edge or the net didn’t decide the outcome of the point. If the net or edge happened at the beginning of the point, and the point ended many shots later in the rally, you are still expected to say sorry out of politeness.

Hit the ball with the blade/hand.

Another situation in which you are expected to apologize is when you hit the ball with anything other than your rubbers.

As the rules of the sport allow you to hit the ball even with the hand that is holding the racket, sometimes you will hit the ball with a bit of the edge of the blade and a bit of the rubber, every now and then you will hit it with the handle, sometimes you will hit it with your fingers.

These shots have completely unpredictable effects, often earning you cheap points. These points are won completely by chance and your opponent will often ask you:

What on earth did you hit it with?

Your opponent missed a serve.

You don’t have to say you’re sorry if your opponent misses a serve, but many players do.

You’re winning a free point, you didn’t do anything, and your opponent will be pretty angry. It is good etiquette, but not necessary, to say you’re sorry.

Your opponent missed an easy ball.

This is a situation in which few players apologize, but some do.

It usually occurs when one of the two players has a very easy opportunity that will obviously win the point and they miss it. In this situation, sometimes the other player will apologize to signal that they’re sorry they won the point because they didn’t really deserve it.

Hand-switch shot

The last situation where someone might apologize is when they execute a hand switch shot.

Some players such as Timo Boll say sorry in this situation because the hand switch is a last resort play that will usually not work, so it is taken as a lucky shot if it goes in, even if it isn’t.

Some say sorry, others do not, it is not mandatory to apologize. But we all know that if you hit a hand switch and win the point, you, and anyone who saw it, will be very happy on the inside.

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The Controller

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

2 thoughts on “Explaining 6 Unusual Things Table Tennis Players Do”

  1. Thanks for sharing all of this great information! This is really good for your sport. I live in Denver, Colorado in the U.S. Table Tennis is apparently growing in popularity here but I couldn’t even tell you where there is a table to play on. Even though we definitely lack adequate space inside our relatively small house, I’m determined to find a way, (at least during the warmer part of the year.) I know they make tables designed to put up with being outdoors but, even then, there’s going to be wind to contend with. We have a large, uncovered, level concrete patio in the back that would work but, again, the wind will interfere often plus, lighting will be required after sundown. This idea will also meet resistance from the evil empress, (my wife.) I’m afraid her reaction would be about the same as if I were to walk in the front door with my arm around a beautiful young woman, introduce her as my girlfriend and explain that she’ll be staying in the downstairs bedroom for a bit! I wonder if anyone makes a bulletproof table? (Bulletproof girlfriend, maybe? Just kidding-of course.) Anyway, what I’m trying to say is “Thank You!” for providing some motivation.

    1. Hello Andy! I’m glad you liked the article.

      There are many table tennis clubs in Colorado, you can find them on Google Maps. I hope you can find one near your home. Joining a table tennis club is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

      The alternative solutions would be:

      1) Set up a frame with some plastic sheeting to take care of the wind situation but I’m not sure the Evil Empress would like that.

      2) Purchase a 3/4 size table or a midsize table. You could fit one of these inside your house and they’re lots of fun to play on.

      I really do hope you can find a place to play table tennis, it’s a great way to have fun and make friends. If you travel the 6000 miles from Denver to Buenos Aires, you’re invited to play at my club 😁

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