Using Spin in Table Tennis

Long live the revolution(s)!

Man playing ping pong - China, Shanghai
Phillip Jarrell Photographer/The Image Bank

What is Spin?

The most important difference between modern competitive table tennis and the game that is played in basements and garages around the world is spin. The amusing past-time that most people are familiar with as ping-pong does not have the same amount of spin involved as the real sport more often know as table tennis. It is the ability of advanced players using modern technology to apply spins of up to 150 revolutions per second that truly makes table tennis a unique sport.

In order to become an advanced player, you need to know all about spin, including:

  • Why is Spin Important?
  • How does Spin Work and How do You Create It?
  • How to use Spin Properly
  • How to Read Spin
  • How to Handle Spin

We'll start in this article with why spin is so important in modern table tennis.

Why is Spin Important in Table Tennis?

It is probably easiest to understand how important spin is by first imagining what table tennis would be like if there was no such thing as spin. If you could not spin the ball in table tennis, what would be different?

How Hard You Can Hit

First of all, you would be limited in how hard you could hit the ball. A table tennis table is 9 feet or 2.74 meters long. A top player can hit a ball off the bat at around 175km/hour (although it will slow down a little due to air resistance).

Without boring you with all the physics, this means that the ball will drop due to gravity about one and a half to two centimeters during the time it takes to cross the table. So if the ball is hit at the same height as the top of the net, it will be physically impossible to hit the ball at this speed and still land the ball on the opponent's court - the ball will simply not drop fast enough. It gets worse as the ball gets lower since the ball must now be hit upwards to get over the net, and then there is only gravity to pull it back down onto the table. (By the way, you could hit the ball as hard as you can virtually straight up in the air, hoping that it will come down on the other side of the table. But practically it's a pretty silly thing to do, and very hard as well - try it sometime!)

The ball could only be hit at full speed and power if the ball was high enough to draw a virtually straight line between the ball and a point on the opponent's side of the table, without the net getting in the way. This is roughly 30cm above the table if the ball is hit at the end line.

Spin is what allows players to hit a table tennis ball hard when the ball is low or below the net, but still, land it on the table. By putting heavy topspin on the ball, a player is able to make the ball drop towards the table faster, so that he can hit the ball fast in an upwards direction, but have his heavy topspin pull the ball down onto the other side of the table.

Spin is why the real sport of table tennis is played so much faster and harder than the basement version - the more you can spin the ball, the harder you can hit it and still hit the table!

Variety of Strokes

Secondly, without spin, you would lose the ability to curve the ball through the air and bounce in the direction of the spin when it hits the table. Every stroke would go in a straight line in the direction that the ball is hit - much like a badminton shuttlecock.

Putting topspin on the ball causes the ball to drop faster and kick more forward when it bounces, while backspin makes the ball tend to lift against the force of gravity and slows down the forward bounce. Left sidespin and right sidespin cause the ball to curve to the left and right and bounce towards these directions when hitting the table. Any combination of two of these spins can be used to achieve strokes that are harder for the opponent to return than a ball with no spin. If the opponent doesn't adjust for the effect of the spin on the flight of the ball and the way it bounces, he's unlikely to even hit the ball!

Spin is the reason why the modern game has much more variety of strokes than the basement version - with spin you have many more choices about what to do with the ball - hit it hard or soft, with topspin or backspin, or curve it left or right with sidespin.


Thirdly, without spin, you would lose the ability to deceive the opponent about what spin is on the ball. Every ball would have exactly the same amount of spin - none.

In the modern game, it's possible to deceive the opponent with spin in a couple of ways. Firstly, clever players can trick the opponent about what type of spin is on the ball. This is quite difficult to do during a rally, but more achievable when serving. Secondly, it's possible to make an opponent guess wrong about the amount of spin on the ball, for example making him think the ball has light backspin when in actual fact the ball has heavy backspin. The opponent would be likely to put the ball in the net.

Spin is the reason why the modern game is much more difficult to play, but also much more rewarding. The ability to vary the spin and deceive your opponent is crucial to success in advanced table tennis.


As you can see, spin is an essential part of modern table tennis. It is that magical element that makes it fun and causes the most frustration as well. Learning to use spin and handle your opponent's spin can take time, but once you start to learn how, the satisfaction you will get from being able to do things to a table tennis ball you never dreamed were possible is immense!

Now that you know why spin is so important, why not read about how it works and how to create your own?