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Table tennis

Table tennis (also known as ping pong, although most professionals are offended by this term) is the second most played sport in the world as well as the newest of the world's major sports. It is played with a very light (2.7 gram), high-bouncing hollow plastic ball of 4.0 centimetres diameter, on a table 2.74 metres long, 1.525 metres wide, and 76 centimetres high with a masonite[?] or similar manufactured timber, coated with a low-friction, smooth coating. The court is divided into two halves by a 15,25-centimetre high net. Players are equipped with a wooden racket (also called bat or paddle) covered with rubber.

A point is commenced by the player serving the ball by releasing the ball ( behind the edge of the table) palm up and tossing it at least six inches and then hitting it such that it bounces in the half of the court closest to him, then in the opponent's half. The opponent must then hit it back so that it bounces in the servers half (not bouncing in his own half), and then the players alternate playing the ball and having it bounce on the opponent's side of the table until one makes an error. Errors can be:

  • allowing the ball to bounce on one's own side twice
  • not hitting the ball after it has bounced on one's own side
  • having the ball bounce on one's own side after hitting it
  • having the ball not bounce on the opponent's side after hitting it (unless the opponent hit the ball before it bounced)

The other player is awarded one point. A player (chosen by a coin toss or other means) serves for two points (regardless of who wins them) and then the serve passes to his opponent for two serves. Typically, games are played to 11 points and a player must win by at least a two point difference. In competition play, matches are typically best of five or seven games. Before 2001, players alternated serves every 5 points and this continues to be the rule in doubles.

While popular around the world at a recreational level, most of the world's best competitive players are from China, but several world champion titles have also gone to Sweden. Skilled players exhibit extraordinarily swift reaction times, but racquet construction (elite players typically select and attach the rubber to their own rackets) contributes significantly to the amount of deviation from the expected ball flight path players can achieve by putting spin on the ball, and the fairly recent development of special glue speeds up the departure of the ball from the rubber, though at the cost of some ball control.

Table tennis was introduced at the Olympics in 1988.

Table tennis inspired the first commercially successful video game, Pong.

In the 1970s the Chinese invited American table tennis players to a tournament in China. This marked a thawing in relations with the United States that was followed up by a visit by the US president Richard Nixon. The popular media therefore dubbed this visit "Ping Pong Diplomacy[?]".

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