Table Tennis in the Olympics: What to Know for Tokyo Games

China and Japan will be among the top countries to watch in Olympic table tennis

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Tokyo Olympics have finally arrived after being postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes from across the world will gather in Tokyo for the Olympics from July 23 through Aug. 8.

Table tennis is among the 28 sports that will take place at the Olympics this summer. Table tennis doesn’t have the same type of history as some other Olympic sports, as it was added to the games in 1988 with 12 different countries medaling over the past 32 years.

Here’s everything you need to know about table tennis in 2021:

What are the rules for table tennis?

You might be familiar with table tennis, otherwise known as ping pong, a common leisure game in the United States. Table tennis at the Olympics is a little more complicated, though.

Table tennis matches at the Olympics all begin with a coin toss by the umpire. The winner can decide to either serve the ball, receive the ball or pick which side of the table to start on. The match begins with the server tossing the ball in the air and striking it so it bounces on the server side first, then bounces on the opponent’s side. In singles competition, the server can serve the ball to any part of the table. In doubles, the serve must travel diagonally across the table.

Whichever player fails to properly return the ball back to the opponent's side loses the point. Once one player reaches 11 points, that player wins a game. If a game is tied at 10 points apiece, the game continues until one player goes ahead by two points. To win the match, a player must win four games, making each match a seven-game series. Doubles matches are a best-of-five series, with the victor only needing to win three games.

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Who is playing table tennis in the Olympics 2021?

Here’s a list of the men’s table tennis players who qualified for the 2021 Olympics:

Australia: David Powell, Chris Yan

Brazil: Hugo Calderano, Gustavo Tsuboi, Vitor Ishiy

China: Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin

Chinese Taipei: Lin Yun-Ju, Chuang Chih-Yuan, Chen Chien-An

Croatia: Andrej Gacina, Tomislav Pucar, Frane Kojic

Egypt: Omar Assar, Ahmed Saleh, Khalid Assar

France: Simon Gauzy, Emmanuel Lebesson, Alexandre Cassin

Germany: Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Timo Boll, Patrick Franziska

Hong Kong: Wong Chun Ting, Lam Siu Hang, Ho Kwan Kit

Japan: Tomokazu Harimoto, Koki Niwa, Jun Mizutani

Korea Republic: Youngsik Jeong, Woojin Jang, Sangsu Lee

Portugal: Marcos Freitas, Tiago Apolónia, João Monteiro

Serbia: Aleksandar Karakasevic, Zsolt Peto, Marko Jevtovic

Slovenia: Jorgic Darko, Tokic Bojan, Kozul Deni

Sweden: Mattias Falck, Anton Kallberg, Kristian Karlsson

USA: Kanak Jha, Nikhil Kumar, Zhou Xin

Here’s a list of the women’s table tennis players who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics:

Australia: Michelle Bromley, Stephanie Sang

Austria: Sofia Polcanova, Liu Jia, Liu Yuan

Brazil: Bruna Takahashi, Jessica Yamada, Caroline Kumahara

China: Chen Meng, Sun Yingsha, Liu Shiwen

Chinese Taipei: Cheng I-Ching, Chen Szu-Yu, Cheng Hsien-Tzu

Egypt: Dina Meshref, Yousra Helmy, Farah Abdel-Aziz

Germany: Petrissa Solja, Han Ying, Shan Xiaona

Hong Kong: Doo Hoi Kem, Soo Wai Yam Minnie, Lee Ho Ching

Hungary: Dora Madarasz, Georgina Pota, Szandra Pergel

Japan: Mima Ito, Kasumi Ishikawa, Miu Hirano

Korea Republic: Jeon Jihee, Shin Yubin, Choi Hyojoo

Poland: Li Qian, Natalia Partyka, Natalia Bajor

Romania: Elizabeta Samara, Bernadette Szocs, Daniela Dodean Monteiro

Singapore: Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye

USA: Lily Zhang, Liu Juan, Wang Huijing

When will the men’s and women’s Olympic table tennis tournaments take place?

Every table tennis match will be played at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium from July 24 through Aug. 6. Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium was used for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo for gymnastics and water polo, but table tennis is the only sport that will be played at the stadium this summer.

The men’s singles table tennis tournament will take place from July 24-30. Eight players will qualify for the knockout round, which concludes with the bronze and gold medal matches on July 30.

The women’s singles table tennis tournament will take place from July 24-29. Like in the men’s tournament, eight players will advance to a knockout round with the semifinals, bronze and gold medal matches all being played July 29.

The men’s team table tennis tournament will take place from Aug. 1-6. Eight teams will make the knockout round beginning on Aug. 3. The bronze and gold medal matches will wrap up on Aug. 6, the final Friday of the Olympics.

The women’s team table tennis tournament will take place from Aug. 1-5. Eight teams will advance to a knockout round, with the bronze and gold medal matches taking place on Aug. 5.

Lastly, the mixed doubles table tennis tournament is scheduled for July 24-26. Mixed doubles is a new event for the Olympics this year and it was added after years of work. There were two prior failed attempts to get mixed doubles added to the Olympics before it finally passed in 2017 for the Tokyo Olympics.

Who are the best table tennis players in the world?

China’s Fan Zhendong has never competed in the Olympics but is the No. 1 ranked men’s singles table tennis player in the world heading into Tokyo after winning the men’s singles Table Tennis World Cup in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Chen Meng of China is the No. 1 ranked women’s singles table tennis player in the world. She has won four consecutive ITTF World Tour Grand Finals dating back to 2017 and will compete in her first Olympics for China.

The South Korean duo of Lee Sang-Su and Jeoung Young-Sik is the No. 1 ranked men’s doubles table tennis team in the world. Both Sang-Su and Young-Sik qualified for the 2021 Olympics, so the pair could team up in Tokyo for South Korea. 

The Japanese duo of Miu Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa is the No. 1 ranked women’s doubles table tennis team in the world. Hirano, 21, became the youngest woman to win the Table Tennis World Cup in 2016 when she was just 16. Ishikawa won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.

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