Whether you’ve played ping pong for a long time or are someone new to the game, at some point this must have happened: you hit the ball with your paddle, the ball then goes over the other side but, touches the top of the net on its way over. Does it count as a legitimate return? Can you hit the net in ping pong?
You can hit the net in ping pong at any point during a game, as long as the ball bounces on your opponent’s side of the table immediately after. However, if the ball hits the net during a serve and lands on the opponent’s side, known as a “let,” then the server will need to serve again.
In this post, I’ll explain what happens when you hit the net at various points during a game of ping pong. I will also discuss how many times you’re allowed to hit the net and provide a refresher on the basic rules of a game of ping pong.
For every racket sport that involves a net, the convention is that the ball must go over the net and reach the opponent’s side so that it can be deemed as a legitimate return.
During a rally in ping pong, where the ball is going back and forth between the players, the ball can hit the net as long as it bounces on the opponent’s end of the table after coming in contact with the net. Play then continues until a point is won.
However, the situation is a little different if the ball hits the net during a serve. According to the 2021 ITTF Handbook, a serve that hits the net on the way over is called a “let.” At this juncture, no point is awarded to either player and the server will have to replay the serve. It is called a “let” because the rule “lets” the server get another try.
It’s worth noting that if the serve doesn’t make it over the net to begin with or strikes the net, makes it over but never bounces on the other side of the net – a point is awarded to the receiver and no “let” serve is allowed.
For more on what constitutes a legal serve, click here.
There is no restriction on the number of times the ball can hit the net during a rally. Once the ball makes its way over and bounces at your opponent’s half of the court, you’ve made a legal return and the ball must continue to be played.
It is also important to note that there is no limit to how many times a “let” serve can be replayed, so long as the served ball that has touched the net has legally landed on the other side of the table.
The easy way to remember this rule is – in ping pong, there is no limit to the number of times the ball can hit the net during a rally or during a serve as long as the served ball still lands on the other side of the table.
Apart from hitting the net, there are many other variations in which you might hit a ball. Let’s examine these likely situations, examine applicable rules, and most importantly, determine who wins the point!
Law 2.2.1 of the ITTF Handbook tells us that the net posts form a part of the “net assembly,” together with the net, its suspension, and the clamps attaching it to the table.
What does this mean?
Since the posts and the net constitute a single structure, what happens when the ball hits the posts is the same as when the ball hits the net. So, the ball must still bounce on the opponent’s side of the table for it to be a legitimate return even aftering hitting the post.
A typical return would look like this: you hit the ping pong ball with your paddle, and then the ball travels over the net and bounces at your opponent’s court so that play can continue.
But what if a ball is hit at you so far off to the side, you have no choice but to go around the post and land the ball back onto your opponent’s side? Is this legal? Yes!
Essentially, the rule says that it’s OK for the ball to go around the net or post so long as it has made its way to the opposite playing surface and bounces.
If you want to see this in action, check out this video, which features an “around the net” shot by Fan Zhendong, current world ranking no.1 male player, and 2021 Tokyo Olympic’s silver-medalist for men’s single: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/wnyvJoHWGbo
As shown in the video, right after Fan Zhendong hit the ball under the table, it neither passed through the net nor bounced on his opponent’s side of the table. To be exact, the ball merely “rolled” over the playing surface – leaving his opponent, Simon Gauzy, in absolute awe.
The ping pong ball can bounce back to your side without your opponent even hitting it due to extreme spin. It’s rare but it can happen.
The rules of ping pong tell us that a player must hit the ball before it returns to the opposite side of the table. Therefore, you will be awarded a point since your opponent failed to make a correct return in time.
The general rule in ping pong is that you can’t hit the ball with your free hand. If this happens, your opponent will get the point. The only exception to this rule is that it does not apply to the paddle hand as long as it is gripping the paddle.
In other words, you may hit the ball with your paddle hand. This circumstance can and, on occasion, does happen, where you accidentally return the ball with your fingers (holding the paddle) or the back of your paddle hand. Either way, it is still a legitimate return if this occurs.
Here are some other basic rules you need to know to enjoy a game of ping pong:
Click the link for a complete breakdown of the 5 basic rules of ping ping every beginner should know. This post makes learning the basic rules easy!
Depending on when the ball hits the net and what it does after hitting the net the ball may remain in play or it may need to be served again.
In summary, during a rally, a ball that hits the net but still makes its way to the opponent’s court constitutes a legitimate return.
Many rules govern what counts as a legal service, but during a serve that hits the net, as long as the ball bounces on the receiver’s side of the table, the server is allowed to replay the serve an unlimited number of times.