Table tennis: fastest ball sport?

Rowden Fullen 2010

Is table tennis the fastest ball sport there is? If we are talking about the actual speed of the ball then our sport is in fact nowhere near.

The 5 fastest in order of overall ball/shuttlecock speed are;
• Jai Alai (Pelota) 188mph. (Unofficially 200+).
• Golf ball at 170mph.
• Badminton (a jump smash) shuttlecock leaves the racket at 162mph.
• Tennis 153 mph (Andy Roddick’s recorded serve) probably this can be improved on in the case of a counter-smash.
• Squash 151 mph.

The maximum speed of a table tennis ball doesn’t reach anywhere near half these speeds. In various tests, either recorded with a laser gun or on camera (sound, racket to racket) it can almost certainly be concluded that a table tennis ball barely exceeds 75 mph and then we have to remember that it slows too very rapidly after leaving the racket.

But surely when we are talking about the fastest ball sport, if the results are to be considered anywhere near accurate, we must take into account reaction time and the time from racket contact to racket contact. In table tennis if we consider how close the players are and that a smash at one end of the table takes around 0.1 of a second to reach the other end, then this is in fact well below normal reaction time for almost all players.

In other sports as well although the ball may travel faster, the courts are bigger and participants will have more time – in addition sports like golf are not antagonistic and the sportsman is not hitting a moving ball or reacting to an opponent’s body action.

The bigger table tennis ball also loses spin rapidly through the air and gives the close-to-table attacker more advantages. The maximum revolutions with the 38mm ball as tested by the Chinese National Team were 150 revs per second. With the 40mm ball this drops to about 133 revs per second, but the bigger ball loses spin much more rapidly through the air because of its larger surface area.

As a result players who like to adopt a position back off the table, both because of the bigger ball and the lack of glue, have much less chance of winning points. This particularly affects the women who, because of their lower upper body strength and less dynamic movement, are not as quick to reach the ball and are less able to weight the stroke as heavily and play power and spin from a deeper position.