Article on how the new plastic balls have changed table tennis
For a link to the article
The Evolution of the Table Tennis Ball and
How Plastic Balls Will Change the Scene
20 July 2017 | Posted in:
Table Tennis Tips
About the author - Radivoj Hudetz
Radivoj Hudetz is a 70-year veteran of table tennis and the Chairman
of the ETTHoF board.
He's the coach of Bayern, the German
junior team, the Yugoslavian national women team, and the
Yugoslavian champion women team HASTK Mladost Zagreb.
author of several books on table tennis techniques, tactics and
history. He's also the chief editor of table tennis periodicals
“Tischtennis aktuell” and “SPIN”, and an author of several films and
DVD’s on table tennis.
He's also the former president of
Yugoslav Table Tennis Association and the former General secretary
of Croatian TT Association.
He was the tournament director of
World Championships 2007.
Currently he's a honorary member
of ETTU and a member of ITTF President Advisory Council.
been honored with ITTF award of merit, with the Croatian Table
Tennis Association’s Trophy and with the Sport Award of Croatian
From its very beginning, table tennis has
evolved through many different phases, helping it to become the
sport it is today. While alterations such as rule changes and
equipment development have mostly offered improvements, some have
also been obstacles on the road to the sport’s development. Not so
long ago, another big step was taken.
The recent 2014-2015
table tennis season brought a radical new change to the sport:
plastic balls began to replace celluloid balls at the most important
events under the tutorage of ITTF – including the World
Championships, World Tour Tournaments, and other major competitions.
The shift progressed in a manner to phase out the old celluloid
balls, keeping them in parallel use with plastic balls for a certain
period before completely disappearing.
introduction of plastic balls did not require any change of rules,
as the rules do not specify which material the ball must be made of;
only the weight, diameter, and rebound are specified.
Tennis Balls: Then to Now
This change in material can be
understood in better context if we look at its evolution over time.
The first celluloid ball was introduced in England in 1900, at a
time when table tennis had traditionally been more of a parlor game
than a sport, using balls made from cork or other materials.
So in 1900, the 38mm celluloid ball became the new standard, and
remained this way until the year 2000 when it was replaced by a
larger, 40mm ball.
Even before that date, however, a plastic
ball produced by the company Barna Dunlop was used for a short time
in the 1980’s, even making an appearance at some big, international
events. But most players ended up rejecting these plastic balls as
unplayable, because they were as hard as stone, and until now, no
further attempts were made to improve upon this type of ball.
Meanwhile, celluloid was rapidly becoming an obsolete material,
replaced by plastic for all of its purposes except for the
production of table tennis balls! Strict safety regulations for
celluloid production in Europe make its production expensive, and
demand for the material has dramatically decreased to the point that
there is no more celluloid production in Europe.
point, only two factories in the world produce celluloid, both
located in China. These factories produce the material solely for
table tennis balls, and Europe has shut down all of its celluloid
ball factories completely, as the production has become too costly.
On top of this, celluloid is an extremely flammable
material, making it difficult and rather expensive to transport and
store the balls. The development of plastic materials and their
widespread use in everyday life has made it quite natural to
exchange such an obsolete material as celluloid with contemporary
From Celluloid to Plastic
Some years ago, China
began to investigate how to produce plastic balls, an initiative
which came from the ITTF Equipment Committee. In cooperation with
ITTF, one of the Chinese ball factories began to produce its first
samples of plastic balls. This proved to be a major innovation, as
these new balls were produced in one piece, unlike celluloid balls
which have a seam down the middle where their two hemispheres
China’s plastic ball production required totally
new technology and machinery. A problem arose immediately: because
these plastic balls have no seam, the existing testing procedures
and equipment weren’t able to precisely measure whether the ball
suited the ITTF approval demands. It wasn’t necessary to change the
sport’s rules because of the change in material, but it did become
necessary to develop new measuring devices. As a result, the new
plastic balls were not immediately ITTF approved.
meantime, two other Chinese factories started to produce plastic
balls in the traditional way with a seam, while one was producing
them without. So today, we have two Chinese factories producing
plastic balls with a seam, one Chinese factory producing plastic
balls without a seam, and one Japanese and one German factory
producing plastic balls with a seam.
Disadvantages of Plastic Balls
From the moment that plastic
balls were introduced, all ITTF events from 2014-2015 and onward
were required to use the new material. It was only logical that
continental events and most national events immediately followed, as
celluloid remained in use only in lower categories and hobby
Plastic balls produce a different sound than
celluloid balls, but the most important difference between the two
is the harder surface of plastic which makes it impossible to give
the ball as much spin as with celluloid balls.
durability and quality of plastic balls was initially quite poor. It
was expected that seamless balls would produce a homogenous high
quality out of production, solving one of the problems of celluloid,
but this wasn’t the case – the balls still needed to be divided
after production into four categories, from the best quality balls
for competitions down to lowest quality balls for practicing.
Unexpected differences in production quality were a disappointing
result from the new plastic ball production.
factories have changed the original plastic used for the production
of the balls with a new type of plastic that should solve these
existing problems, as well as making the balls less expensive. The
fact is that plastic balls have already significantly changed the
game, evolving it to be played with less spin and more speed.
The Impact of Plastic Balls on Table Tennis
balls 2The introduction of plastic balls to table tennis has
definitely changed the game in massive ways. In a rally, a plastic
ball bounces higher than a celluloid ball, flies faster, and is more
difficult for the player to produce spin than with a celluloid ball.
Plastic balls as they are today are an advantage for players
playing a fast attack game without much spin. These players are
hitting the ball as soon as possible after the bounce, before the
ball reaches the highest point of its trajectory. The new European
champion from Budapest 2017 Lebesson (France) is one player who
profited from these characteristics of plastic balls. He won a gold
medal with his fast attack style, the plastic ball enabling him to
dominate using hard and fast strokes without much spin.
Another example of a player who has used this new material to their
advantage is the new Japanese star Harimoto Tomokazu, who in the
2017 World Championships marched into the quarterfinals at only 14
years of age! He profited massively from the plastic ball using his
fast strokes devoid of spin, hitting the ball immediately after the
bounce on the table. It is possible that this type of gameplay will
bring pimpled rubbers back into the scene.
But not everyone
benefits from the new plastic balls and the changes they bring to
gameplay. Defensive players playing backspin defense are even in
more trouble than they've already been, and topspin players playing
attack from half-distance have difficulties with the new ball as
well. The ball comes at them faster, they have less time to react,
and they cannot produce as much spin as before.
changes brought to the game have been significant, and have caused
players to alter their strategies and techniques to keep up. Table
tennis has become faster, and rallies shorter. And with shorter
stroke movements comes the need for adequate physical preparation to
For another article on plastic balls -
click here (I could not copy the article so hopefully this
link still works)