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Table Tennis: Sometimes It Takes Two Balls

Beginning in July of 2014, the ITTF has a new regulation in place regarding table tennis balls.

Only ITTF events must use non-celluloid plastic balls, ordinarily called Poly-Balls or P-Balls. The celluloid balls are still allowed for the sport of table tennis and the ITTF continues to approve their usage.
The only tournaments affected by the ITTF resolution on Poly-Balls are:

  • World Championship
  • ITTF World Tour
  • ITTF Junior Circuit
  • Other ITTF events.

All others championships or events do not require the use of P-Balls. Here is the main reason why the balls are changing:

All celluloid balls are highly flammable and need to be imported / transported inside a special fire proof container. It was expensive and complicated for manufacturers to deal with the requirement of importing these balls. The new Poly-balls are made with plastic which reduce the potential fire hazard and thus will be much easier and less costly to transport.

Concerning the size of the ball, the new ones are called “40+” because there is a 2mm tolerance besides the 40mm regulation. This clearly impacts the bounce as all of the balls will have a different size.

Indeed, there is a debate! Table tennis players do not agree on these balls. Some of them think that the spin and speed are very comparable to Celluloid balls and others say that the new Poly-Balls are slower and harder to play offensively. Most of them agree that the new balls make an unusual and strange sound. This newly approved material is safer for the environment, however does the new balls do not yet match the cost, quality, consistency, or durability of celluloid balls.

Besides, these balls are expensive for the moment (about $1.50 per ball) and are not as durable as the Celluloid.

Ball manufacturers continue to manufacture celluloid balls.   We hope that the cost, quality, and durability of poly balls will improve in the near future.

Return of the Hard Bat?

Professional table tennis is played with sponge paddles, which allow increased control at the cost of power and accessibility. This year’s US Open features a hard bat division, calling back to the days of power strokes and sandpaper paddles. Is this part of a wider movement within the sport?

“For once in my life, I looked backward rather than forward in history, and I found out that current table tennis had no television appeal,” Hearn said. “The rallies are too short. It lacks athleticism. It’s just not big enough.”

Hearn filled Alexandra Palace with booming rock music for the competition, and he made sure the beer stands were always pouring. He wooed top players with a $100,000 prize purse—10 times greater than Table Tennis’s U.S. Open pays its winner. The two-day tournament attracted several thousand spectators and a million television viewers on Sky Sports.

“Guys would make these amazing shots from 15 feet past the table and just smash it into the corner,” Hearn said. “The rallies went on and on. The crowd would go crazy.”

While we applaud the technical wizardry of sponge play, with its layers of spin and deception, we would love to see a return to the packed halls and excitement of the sport’s early days. Is encouraging hard bat play a key part of that revival?

Richard Bergmann

Bergmann captured the World Championship seven times over the course of his career, earning a reputation as one of the greatest defensive players in table tennis. He won through technique, determination, and flawless returns.


As possibly one of the first professional table tennis players, Bergmann toured with the Harlem Globetrotters through the 50s.