The Geometry of Table Tennis
The Geometry of Table Tennis (GoTT) starts with a look at the equipment first and then the environment around you.
Table tennis, played professionally or recreationally, is played on the same size table, 5 feet wide (60") by 9 feet deep (108"). The top of the table is 30 in from the floor. There is a net 6 inches high that divides the table in two halves. There is usually a white stripe all around the table, and one down the middle. Blue colored tops are trending now, but green was a common color for many years.
Are all table tennis tables the same then?
Here are some things to know:
The thicker the top, the better the bounce. A tournament quality table has a 1 inch thick top. It provides a consistent bounce for the ball, no matter where on the table it bounces. Table top thicknesses vary, from 7/8" to 5/8" to 1/2".
As you would expect, the thicker the top, the sturdier the support needs to be. Generally thicker table tops are also heavier and more expensive to manufacture, so one expects a tournament table to cost more. Expect to spend $1,500 for a tournament quality table, like the one in the picture to the right.
As a result of cost, there are a lot of table tennis table in basements that have 5/8" tops.
Does it make a difference? Absolutely! A ball bounces higher and faster on a thicker table top.
The table tennis racket
Let's talk about table tennis rackets. The main type of racket we're going to talk about here is the one which most tournament players use. There are many variations, but that is for another day.
The basic racket is composed of a wooden blade that has a rubber on both sides. The rubber is red on one side and black on the other, an official table tennis tournament rule. Why is that? There are many types of rubber on the market, some are very fast, some are very spinny. Having one side red and one side black allows you to know what the other person is using to hit the ball. How do you know what is what? You get to ask him before you play, but more on that issue later.
Rubber is what adds spin to the table tennis ball, the one characteristic of a bouncing ball that makes table tennis such an exciting sport. Rubber is made up of a sheet of rubber and a sheet of sponge. The rubber provides the spin, the sponge allows the ball to sink deeper into the rubber. This allows you to have impart more spin on the ball, the deeper the impact, the more rubber you have touching the ball, and the better you can sling that ball forward!
The blade gets to play a part in adding speed to the ball. Depending on the type of wood, number of layers of wood or the use of composite materials, a blade can be very stiff (not flexible). A stiffer blade means that the ball will bounce off the racket faster than a blade made up of softer wood. Is faster better? A ball that bounces off a racket faster is usaully a good thing. But because it comes off the racket faster, then the ability to control the angle of the blade at contact becomes important, meaning do you hit the other side of the table or not. A slower blade means more control because the ball leaves the racket more slowly, giving you a little bit more time to adjust.
Whcih one do you choose? Generally a beginning player would use a slower blade and rubber combination for control, and a professional player would want a faster racket with rubber to match his playing style. Since there are hundreds of blades and rubbers in the market, one has a lot of choices to match your level of play and the style of game you want to play. Your coach can help you pick a racket to begin or to grow with. No one buys a Ferrari to learn how to drive, but you do get bragging rights.
Expect to spend around $100 for a decent beginner's racket. Most players eventually buy a custom racket, meaning you pick the blade and the type of rubber for your backhand and your forehand side. A custom racket costs around $150. Once you get really into the game, expect to spend up to $300 or even $500. The manufacturers havegotten very high tech in materials for blades and rubbers.
But before spending a lot on a racket, it's good to get learn a basic foundation, and then build a racket based on what kind of player who will become. You'll probably own more than one racket in the course of your playing career.
Table tennis balls
The tournament standard for balls are now 40mm in diameter. New materials are being introduced now, where previously celluloid was the most common material used for balls, its use is rapidly being replaced by a high quality plastic.
Balls come in white or orange. Of greater importance is the quality of the ball. Balls which are consistent in diameter, roundness, hardness and balance are designated with Three Stars. Being perfectly round is important when playing a high speeds or with great amounts of spin. Off center or non round balls will wobble or bounce erratically or have odd trajectories.
Two Stars and One Stars are lower in quality in one aspect or another. For some manufacturers, a two star ball is a reject three star ball. Since tournament balls can cost $40 a dozen, using two star balls make for a good training ball, good quality and not a budget breaker!
Got two people, two rackets, a few balls and a table? We are ready to play!