The Start and Development of Table Tennis

Rowden Fullen (2001)


World Domination

How innovation in equipment and techniques has changed the game

Tactics from 1926 -- 2001


  • 1877 First Wimbledon Championships.
  • 1880’s Adaptation to the dining room table in big houses, after dinner activity.
  • 1891 (July 16th) Gossima registered at London patent office, boxed table tennis equipment manufactured by John Jaques and Son. Original rackets were vellum made for a primitive form of badminton.
  • 1900 Introduction of celluloid balls from America.
  • 1901 T.T. Association and rival Ping Pong Association formed in England.
  • 1902 E.C. Goode, London ‘invented’ the pimpled rubber covering.
  • 1905 In England the game faded into obscurity (though it did continue in some outposts in the North and the West Country). It continued in several European Countries and in America and many of the British Empire colonies and also spread to Japan and China.
  • 1922 Revival of the game in England and the establishment of standard laws.
  • 1926 International Federation established and 1st Worlds in London, December. Played on four tables, 52 in M.S. 14 in W.S. (D.E. Gubbins inW.S. final).
  • 1927 First Swedish Closed. Carl-Erik Bulow champion (KFUM Göteborg). Women did not take part till 1946 (Eina Ericson, Svarviks IF).
  • 1933 December, first women’s team event in Worlds, Corbillon Cup. Won by Germany.
  • 1936 Longest rally of all time, about 2 hours and 10 minutes. ( A. Ehrlich and F. Paneth). Prague, men’s team event.
  • 1937 Net lowered from 6 ¾ inches to 6 inches. A time limit of 20 minutes per game imposed. Finger spin was banned.
  • 1947 Introduction of ‘flat-hand’ service. Swedish women first competed in team event and won no matches.
  • 1947-48 England women won team event two years running, in ‘47 with a scoreline of 21 - 0.
  • 1951 April - Organized coaching for trainers for the first time, Lilleshall.
  • 1952 H. Satoh became the first player to win a world championship with thick sponge.
  • 1953 England won men’s team event.
  • 1954 The first ever all-sponge final. I. Ogimura beat T. Flisberg. For the first time we saw heavy topspin lobbing with high trajectory and requests for higher light fittings.
  • 1955 The legendary A. Rozeanu won her last singles, six in a row! Also won 3D. 3M.D. and 5 Team Golds. 1953 won 4 gold!
  • 1957 Worlds every 2 years.
  • 1958 First European Championships.
  • 1959 Rubbers standardized. Thick sponge banned and rubber permitted up to 2mm pimples or 4mm ‘sandwich’.
  • 1960 Stan Jacobson discovered the loop and modern table tennis was born.
  • 1961 Racket colour the same on both sides. Expedite rule introduced.
  • 1964 International T.T. Club of England formed, South London.
  • 1965 Chuang Tse-tung won his last of three world singles in a row. China had arrived. (He also won 4 team and 1 doubles).
  • 1969 E. Schöler lost the final to S. Ito after leading 2 - 0. Russia led by the penholder Z. Rudnova and S. Grinberg (also W.D. winners) broke the Asian stranglehold on the women’s team event.
  • 1971 S. Bengtsson won singles at the tender age of 17 years.
  • 1973 Sweden won the men’s team led by S. Bengtsson and K. Johansson. Scheme for International Umpires introduced.
  • 1975 ‘Combi-bats’, the Chinese secret weapon upset many of the world’s top players.
  • 1979 Hungary broke the Chinese dominance in the men’s team with the long-arm loop play of Klampar, Gergely and Jonyer.
  • 1980 J. Hilton won the Europeans.
  • 1981 For the first time ever a country (China) won gold in all 7 events.
  • 1982 First World’s Veterans in Gothenburg. L Darcy cycled there and took silver!
  • 1982+ Use of speed glue in Sweden particularly. (Used from about 1975 by Klampar but came into common use in the early 1980’s).
  • 1984 Racket to have distinguishably different colours on both sides.
  • 1986 Racket colours restricted to red and black.
  • 1988 Table tennis in the Olympics.
  • 1989 - 1993 Sweden destroyed China in the men’s team. Sweden were in all team finals from 1983 - 1995! 1992 Waldner won Olympics.
  • 1997 Waldner won singles in dominant fashion.
  • 2000 Silver to Waldner in Olympics. The ‘old men’ of Sweden won the team event again over China. P Karlsson won the Europeans. The big ball made its appearance.

Games to 11 up. Will table tennis ever be the same again?


From the point of view of the men’s team event, the ‘blue riband’ event of the world championships, there has been a strong domination by different areas of the world at different times. (Worlds suspended for war years 1940 - 1947).

1926 - 1953

Hungary Czechoslovakia England U.S.A. Austria TOTAL
11 6 1 1 1 20

Up to the early 50’s table tennis was totally dominated by Europe and especially in the early years by Hungary. (Hungary is in fact second only to China in the all-time gold medal table with a total of 73).

1954 - 1987

China Japan Sweden Hungary TOTAL
10 7 1 1 19

During this period apart from the odd exceptions (Sweden in ‘73 and Hungary ‘79), the men’s team was almost completely dominated by Asia with China starting to have a strong effect from 1961 onwards.

1989 - 2001

China Sweden TOTAL
3 4 7

In most recent times the title has been monopolized by these two countries, China and Sweden, with the ‘old men’ of Sweden once again using their experience to win against the odds in 2000. However it would seem that for the future there will be little competition for China from Europe, looking at the age of most of the top players in Europe and the lack of new talent coming through at top level.

All-time Gold Medal Table. (1926 - 2001).

  1. China 90
  2. Hungary 73
  3. Japan 48
  4. Czechoslovakia 29
  5. Rumania 20
  6. 6= England 14
  7. 6= Sweden 14
  8. USA 9


The dominant racket covering in the early years from 1902 till the 1950’s was the hard-bat pimpled rubber. It was the celluloid ball and the rubber faced racket that changed the game of table tennis and allowed a new range of shots and variety of spins. The hard-bat rubber meant a rather different stance and method of play than we have today. The path of the strokes was largely up or down and not forward and balance was not the priority it is now. The ball kicked off the racket quite quickly and was not held a long time by the rubber (the surface was not so elastic as it is now), but it did not necessarily reach the other end of the table quicker because there was less topspin through the air. It was not impossible but it was difficult and not effective to try and reverse the spin on the ball. Because of the hard surface the ball wasn’t held long enough and if you hit too hard it would just float off the other end of the table when you played against the spin. Usually if one player attacked the other chopped and waited for the drop shot to come in and attack. You could hit hard when playing with the spin and many players did, taking the ball at quite an early timing point. There was also often good blocking play as with this type of racket it is very easy to play good angles and some players used strokes sometimes thought to be only recently ‘discovered’ like the chop-block! (M. Mednyanszky) (R. Bergmann : half-volley play).

From the early 1950’s till it was banned in 1959 the thick sponge (especially wielded by the Japanese players) was a major factor in changing the game and in introducing new tactics. Players would topspin with a high trajectory particularly when playing from back and there were many requests for higher light fittings! Conventional defence went out of the window and if pushed back players would lob with such strong topspin that it was not easy to put the ball away and win the point (especially with a hard bat). In the counter hitting rallies the ball was gripped by the sponge surface, creating topspin, and travelled much faster. With a strong element of topspin the speed build-up off the opponent’s side of the table was much faster and the ball bounced much lower after the bounce than the hard bat players were used to (the Magnus effect). But above all for the first time in table tennis history players found they had the possibility to easily reverse existing spin on the ball. They could topspin a topspin ball back, they didn’t need to chop!

In 1960 Stan Jacobson discovered a ‘new’ stroke, the loop, which was to revolutionize table tennis. By this time we were using the ‘sandwich’ rubber rackets which had good speed and spin and were tailor-made for the loop. The original concept of the loop was as a high trajectory, very spinny ball (often taken quite late), to be used mainly for prying open the defences of the good choppers. Because the ball dropped very low, very quickly after the bounce, it was difficult for the defender to keep it down and the attacker was always ready to smash at the first opportunity. During the 1960’s and 70’s the loop developed in many different directions as players experimented with using it in differing situations and against differing balls. It was found that it was possible at top level to feed in a very high amount of power and still keep the ball on the table because of the topspin element. However because the path of the stroke now was very much more forward particularly in fast play, balance became much more important. Probably the culmination of looping with spin was the win by a margin of 5 - 1 by Hungary over China in Pyongyang in 1979, (using spin on both forehand and backhand).

In the early 1960’s also a new style of service play had emerged. Gone was the slow tactical build-up and the eventual kill, because the lightning fast drive play of the Asians, especially the Chinese, gave no time for this. The structure of the rally was altered completely and whereas previously the serve more or less put the ball into play, now it was employed so that a definite advantage was gained. The pattern was therefore a short, backspin serve inviting a push return, which was immediately looped, then killed. Rallies were a thing of the past, sudden death had taken over.

In the early 1970’s we had the ‘funny rubbers’ explosion, the combination rackets, led by China (both long-pimple and anti-loop). These were to enjoy a considerable measure of success even against the world’s best players right through the 70’s and into the 80’s ( J.Hilton Europeans 1980) until the ‘black and red’ rule of 1986. Because rubbers were the same colour during this period it was most difficult to read the spin and no-spin ball and one could not always rely on sound in a noisy hall. It was for example only in 1983 that ‘foot stamping’ during service was banned. Also in the 70’s we had the high throw serve again introduced by the Chinese, with the downward speed being converted to spin or speed and often with a different bounce characteristic. This caused problems for many players.

Around about 1982 the use of glue became commonplace and loop speed and spin were further accentuated. The young Swedish players were in the forefront of the glue revolution but also there had been going on quietly behind the scenes in Sweden a number of developmental and coaching changes, which were to rock the table tennis world. As long ago as 1980 M. Appelgren had been in Sweden’s European gold medal winning team but even before that he had been influencing the establishment away from the hard-hitting K. (the hammer) Johansson’s type of game and towards topspin – topspin, the on -the-table ball. Other important factors had occurred — Waldner and Lindh being invited to China in the summer of 1980 and bringing back the multi-ball method of training — coaches such as G. Östh and Bo Persson working to produce a Swedish model to counter the Chinese. But above all talent, Sweden had perhaps the most incredibly talented group of players ever gathered together in one country, at one time. Throughout the 80’s the Swedish model slowly took shape and emerged, moving away from the traditional kill and counter — topspin was to succeed hit as a means to achieve victory. But a topspin somewhere between the long-arm spin strokes of the Hungarians and the short-arm speed strokes of the Chinese players. A topspin which would utilize a shorter stroke and from an earlier timing point, nearer to the peak with more emphasis on speed and spin rather than pure spin. A topspin which because of the glue would have even more speed and penetration and would give the Chinese less time to use their speed. A topspin which would take away their speed advantage and reduce them to a more passive containing game.

Much time was also spent in building up the backhand strength so that a two winged attack could be maintained at all times. There were other aspects also to the Swedish model, much emphasis on serve and receive in practice, much block training under pressure and many irregular exercises. There was too an emphasis on individual development, the players were encouraged to do what they did best and to build on their own strengths. Indeed if you examine the styles of Appelgren, Waldner, Persson, Lindh and Karlsson they are all very different.

Throughout the 80’s the work continued with the players developing and becoming more experienced and confident (and training much in China too). From 1983 - 1987 they took silver in the world team event, from 1989 - 1993 the gold and again in 1995 silver. Seven years in a row they were in the final and in 2000 still strong enough to win again with two of their players in the mid-thirties! What had beaten the Chinese was glue, the strong topspin, better backhands, better blocking and the ability to take the high-throw serve. When the Chinese had lost to the Hungarians in 1979 they had immediately come back with even greater speed, mixed with short, well-placed blocks – the Hungarians needed both room and time for their long strokes, the Chinese denied them these aspects. With the Swedes at their best the Chinese never really found the antidote! What must also be remembered is that some of the great Chinese players were coming to the end of their careers by the mid-80’s, Guo Yuehua for example who was in 4 single finals from 1977 - 83.

During the 1990’s we see that table tennis at world level is much more integrated and athletic with differing styles and techniques flowing one into the other. The serve assumes great importance and the ability to serve well and cope with the opponent’s serve is critical. We have the big ball now too which means a little less spin especially back from the table and the flight path and bounce characteristics are different too — the ball drops more quickly after coming off the table, especially if there is less power input. We have moved into the 2000’s with the shorter game up to 11, which means higher concentration levels and little room for error and soon we will have new service limitations. What does the future hold for our sport? One thing we can guarantee is that however the administrators try to limit how we play, they will never stop new innovative equipment, techniques and tactics coming into our sport. Coaches and players are as we have found over the years inventive and always ready to adapt to new situations.

TACTICS FROM 1926 — 2001

Right up to the 1950’s table tennis was dominated by the ‘hard’ bat with the main tactics being drive against chop and drop short. There would often be good blocking play too (R Bergmann half-volley) as the ‘defender’ got in to change the game. The main ‘path’ of the strokes was vertical as the bat didn’t grip the ball so well and not so much spin was imparted. As a result balance was not so important as it is today, nor was it so essential to ‘face’ the angle of play. In fact many players executed strokes often with their back to the table. The backhand was often quite strong (the Barna flick) and many players used the backhand wing from the centre of the table.

In the 1950’s and early 60’s we had topspin with the sponge bats and the early ‘sandwich’ rackets. For the first time it was easy to reverse existing spin on the ball and to counter or topspin against topspin. Balance and good athletic movement became rather more important. The game also became much more forehand oriented especially with the Japanese in the 50’s, their main tactic being to roll and smash with forehand (Ogimura 51% theory).

From the 1960’s loop play developed in the Western world and gradually reached higher and higher levels (and many different types of loop), culminating in the long-arm spin of the Hungarians in the 70’s (both backhand and forehand.) At the same time blocking play and counter-hitting developed to cope with the loop. However China was able to keep the rest of the world at bay basically with speed play in the 1960’s, fast, close to table short strokes and some backhand development. They often pressured the Western players with tactical switches, hard hit to backhand, hard hit to forehand and then back to the backhand. They were very good to run round on the backhand and open with a strong forehand, so that often Western players were reduced to blocking almost from the word go! Chinese players also worked very much on serve and the third ball and often were able to get the early advantage. In the 1970’s China was the first to dominate with the long pimple and anti-loop rubbers (plus the high-throw serve) and many of the West’s best players suffered defeat (Surbek 1975 team final Lu Yuan-sheng), due to the new equipment, techniques and tactics.

From around the mid 1980’s we can say that the modern game was born. Earlier timed hard loop-drive (rather than loop where the main emphasis is on spin), using glue and also equally strong backhand play. Good blocking developed with a variety of permutations — forced, stop or chop blocks and especially, high level serve and receive play. Much training time is spent for example on serve and 3rd ball and on receive and 2nd and 4th ball. Development has also continued in different alternatives to handle topspin, such as loop to loop play and much more attention to placement, angles and balls to the body or straight. At top level unpredictability is now the norm.

Over the last three or four years table tennis has become noticeably faster and many of the top men stay closer to the table and hit the ball much harder. It would appear too that the ready position in the men’s game is changing to cope with this increase in speed. Many of the top junior boys and the younger top men stand more square now so that they have more options in short play (the rear leg is not so far back as it used to be). Players such as Boll, Maze, Chen Qi and Chuan Chih-Yuan fall into this category. If you look at the world’s best junior boys many have a relatively square stance - Zwickl, Süss and Asian players too such as Yang Xiaofu and Sakamoto. The main exception is with the Asian penhold players who want to play more forehands and receive with the right foot (for a right-hander) well back.

These younger players are just as liable to use the backhand from the middle of the table to create an advantage as the forehand and their squarer stance gives them more options playing at speed closer to the table.

All content ©copyright Rowden Fullen 2010 (except where stated)
Website by Look Lively Web Design Ltd