The history and evolution of table tennis

From the distant past of 1884, to modern day Olympic sports - table tennis has seen it all! Also known by its delightful onomatopoeic moniker 'ping-pong', this game arose out of Far East and brought with it a symphony of sound every time the ball was struck; from the gentle ‘Ping’ as bat hits ball to ‘Pong’ when it bounces off the ever important playing surface. Are you intrigued? Settle in for an intriguing journey through history then and explore how ping pong rose up to become such a popular sport today. 


At the end of the 19th century, the "not-so-humble" pastime of table tennis made its debut in England's fashionable middle class. Utilizing unlikely equipment like champagne corks for balls and cigar boxes as rackets, it quickly grew in popularity among Victorian society seeking a leisurely distraction from their grandiose lives. Thanks to David Foster who popularized this game even further by introducing lawn tennis on a table top version that same year; Hungary soon followed suit with organizing national championships just 7 years later! The real breakthrough came when enterprising traveller James Gibb brought back America’s revolutionary invention - the first celluloid ball - which was much lighter than those previously used rubber ones making play easier yet more compelling. Furthermore E C Gould pushed beyond simply playing but inventing specialized bats to maximize enjoyment during gameplay and have since been integral elements we recognize today at any tournament or club ranking match around world! 


Following on from the success of the first public tournaments at Queen’s Hall in London, it was in 1902 that the first official World Championship took place. The sport enjoyed increased growth and the British Table Tennis Federation was created. The first European Championships were subsequently organised in 1907. Everything stepped up a gear in the 1920s. The Table Tennis Association was created in England in 1921, followed by the International Federation in 1926. The World Championships between the different countries were held in London in 1926 and the French Table Tennis Federation saw the light of day in 1927. The French would participate for the first time in Budapest in 1929. The history of table tennis is coloured by a great many champions, including the Austro-Briton Richard Bergmann, Franco-Polish player Aloizy Ehrilich and the Romanian Angelica Rozeanu. 


In the 1950s, table tennis became integral to the countries of Asia. The Japanese excelled at the World Team Championships between 1954 and 1959. This domination was bolstered by the introduction of foam, which transformed classic bats. The Japanese have provided several world champions, including the likes of Hiroji Sato, distinguishing themselves with their impressive results in 1956 in Tokyo. The sixties heralded the arrival of Chinese supremacy, punctuated by Zhuand Zedong’s triple world champion titles in 1961, 1963 and 1965. It was during this period that ping-pong diplomacy was developed, which contributed to the improvement in Sino-American relations. In 1977, during the World Championships in Birmingham, the first “Chinese service” was used. The service went from being seen as a mere serve to becoming a strategic element of the game. As such, Asia’s place in the history of table tennis went on to become absolutely critical to the progress of this international sport. 


Table tennis has been an Olympic sport since 1988 in Seoul. The first gold medals were awarded to the female Chinese player Chen Jing and the male Korean player Yoo Nam-kyu. The sport gradually turned professional with the emergence of the Pro Tour in 1996. The practice has remained dominated by the Asian players since 1995, including Wang Liqin, triple world champion and world number 1 for numerous years. Today, table tennis is the most practised sport in Asia. In Europe, table tennis comprises champions like Belgian player Jean-Michel Saive, the German Timo Boll and the Dane Michael Maze. In 2016, Chinese players Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike and German player Dimitrij Ovtcharov were leading the world ranking. In 2005, the number of players in the world was estimated to be over 260-million. The International Table Tennis Federation embraces more than 200 nations and 33-million members. Competitions, club tournaments or championships are organised the world over. In June 2016, France boasted 207,213 members. The history of table tennis is today expressed through a constantly evolving infatuation, coloured by the many benefits of regular practice. 


Table tennis relies on simple equipment: a table, bats and balls. Indoor tables are favoured for gentle indoor practice. Outdoor tables, which are a lot more solid and durable, are perfect for outdoor games, without risk of damage. Protective Cornilleau covers provide additional protection. For professionals, competition tables provide a level of solidity that can withstand anything. Meantime, foam rubber bats with rubbers provide both precision and control. From beginner, to expert or professional, there are numerous ball models to suit all kinds of games.

The history of table tennis is all the richer for its developments. Today’s most popular sport in the world, it is constantly bringing together players from all walks of life.