Is there a time limit within which you have to serve the ball?

I experienced a strange game where one of the players just turned his back (as he was about to serve) to his opponent and said you took too long to serve. Everyone around me said to replay the point.

Was this correct as he "wasn't ready" or is this the server's point as he composed himself before serving?

It was an odd situation and I can't find any official rules about it.

  • I want to add the comment that I think this situation should be addressed specifically in the rules, even if it says that it's up to the umpire to determine if the server is intentionally delaying the game by taking too long to serve, or alternatively, if the receiver is maybe over-reacting. Oct 5, 2018 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


The ITTF handbook says the following:

3.4.4 Intervals Play shall be continuous throughout an individual match except that any player is entitled to: an interval of up to 1 minute between successive games of an individual match; brief intervals for towelling after every 6 points from the start of each game and at the change of ends in the last possible game of an individual match.

(emphasis mine)

So, yes, there is a time limit, but not a specified one. This is basically decided by the umpire; if he/she thinks a player is taking too long to serve, a warning can be issued.

  • please correct me if i am wrong. By these rules the point should have been awarded to the server and the player can't just decide to stop the point because he feels the server is taking too long. He should express his concern to the umpire? and if the umpire agrees he can issue a warning? i should point out he had already had a 1 minute break and was ready to recieve*
    – Michael
    Oct 3, 2018 at 14:00
  • I've never played a competitive table tennis match, but that's how it goes in all major sports.
    – Glorfindel
    Oct 3, 2018 at 14:06

As an umpire and a player, I've never encountered this scenario, but I can see where it might occur.

The play should have been called a let and replayed: if the service is delivered when the receiving player or pair is not ready, provided that neither the receiver nor his or her partner attempts to strike the ball;

If you served and the player made no attempt to return the serve and claimed that you took too long, it could be argued that it should be played as a let.

The rule was actually meant more for when a player serves when the receiver is clearly not ready to receive, but if you make an attempt to return the serve, you cannot call a let. This has happened to me personally many times because I am legally blind (no peripheral vision) and I am focused upon getting ready to get in my stance/position but the server sometimes will not look at me to confirm, with eye contact, that I'm ready and serve before I am set.

That doesn't appear to be what happened in this case, but the idea is the same. If your opponent attempted to return your serve, but claimed you took too long, too bad on his/her part, it's your point. If they did not attempt to return the serve, it's a let.

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