Unsporting ways to win points

Most table tennis matches are played in a good spirit. But very occasionally there’s a bad-tempered match. There may be two players who are desperate to win. Or two players who don’t like each other very much. In this type of tense atmosphere, unsporting behaviour can sometimes occur. In local league table tennis, the situation is made worse as there is usually no official umpire, just another player who may not be aware of all the rules or the confidence to enforce them.

Here’s some of the unsporting behaviour I’ve witnessed over the years. Are any of these scenarios familiar to you? Do you have other examples of unsporting behaviour? Please share your experiences in the comment box below.

Serving illegally on purpose

An illegal serve (on purpose) is the most frequent example of unsporting behaviour. I’m not talking about the beginner who hasn’t learnt to serve legally yet. Or the 70-year-old who has served the same way for the past 50 years and has no appetite to change. I’m talking about the player who knows how to serve legally, and serves legally most of the time, but at a crucial stage in a match will do an illegal serve to catch their opponent out. They know if they only do it occasionally, they’ll probably get away with it. Very naughty.

Pretending the edge never happened

You serve. Your opponent pushes back. Your unleash a big topspin attack. The attack goes deep and the ball clips the edge. Your point, or so you think. The umpire calls it the other way as he didn’t see the edge. You politely point out to the umpire that the ball clipped the edge. You both look at the other player for confirmation. Nothing. Just a shrug of the shoulders and a denial that the ball clipped the edge. What? Are you serious? Did you not hear the sound when the ball touched? Or see the way the ball shot off at an angle? No, nothing. Two against one, you lose the point. Really, your opponent knew the ball clipped the edge. Bad, bad behavior.

Refusing to replay a point when ball comes from other court

Balls flying in from different courts is a frequent occurrence in table tennis. It’s frustrating when you’re in control of a rally and just about to win a point, when the umpire (or your opponent) calls a let because a ball bounces in from the next table. Most players just accept the decision and replay the point. Sometimes it works in your favour, sometimes it works against you. But it tends to even out over the course of a match or season.

However, not all players are so fair. I’ve seen players refuse to replay points. They argue with their opponent. They argue with the umpire. Even though they didn’t actually win the point, they’re pretty sure they were going to, so they think they deserve the point. I’ve seen players rant and rave until they get their own way. Unsavoury behaviour – just replay the point.

Refusing to warm-up with a junk rubber

Some players have a standard inverted rubber on one side and a junk rubber (long pimples, anti-spin etc) on the other side. During the warm-up before a match they only use their standard inverted rubber, giving you no opportunity to play a few shots against their junk rubber. Even if you ask them, they may refuse. What happens? You lose the first few points when they use their junk rubber as you try to work out what the hell is going on! This is a fairly common tactic. Some consider it acceptable behaviour. But I don’t think it is sporting behaviour. It’s hard enough playing against junk rubbers as it is. When you have no opportunity to warm-up against a junk rubber, you’re at a clear disadvantage. Sneaky and devious!

Verbally trashing your opponent

This happens in all sports. Actually, it probably happens far less in table tennis than a sport like football or cricket, but it still happens. You get the occasional opponent who likes to give a running commentary throughout the match. And it’s not an informative running commentary, oh no! It’s a running commentary detailing how rubbish you are, how lucky you are, how they’re going to beat you so bad. They celebrate their points with over-zealous glee. And they have a big library of snide remarks when they lose a point. It’s all an attempt to unsettle an opponent, to get under their skin, to put them off their game. It’s not nice and not needed. Let your table tennis do the talking, not your mouth.

When a match is over, there is still one more chance for unsporting behaviour – refusing to shake your opponent’s hand.

No one enjoys losing. But most players accept it with good grace. Even if it’s been a bad-tempered match, players are usually big enough to shake hands at the end. It’s only table tennis after all. But occasionally, a player will refuse to shake hands. Maybe they are so angry with themselves they lost or simply cannot accept they were beaten by a weaker player.Whatever the reason, it creates a bad atmosphere.

I remember one league match I umpired in London a few years ago. Two 60-year-olds were antagonising each other throughout the match. When they match finished, did they shake hands? No. One player picked up a chair and tried to hit the other player with it. I had to step between them to stop a fight breaking out. 60-year-olds should know better!

When a match finishes, win or lose, just shake hands.

As you can probably gather, I’m not much of a fan of unsporting behaviour. I like players to compete fairly, be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. But I’m also realistic. When two players really want to win, they can sometimes bend the rules to gain an advantage. So please do share your experiences. What are your examples of unsporting behaviour? Let me know in the comment box below.

About Tom Lodziak

I’m a table tennis coach based in Cambridge in the UK. I have 70+ free table tennis lessons on my popular YouTube channel. I also have 150+ coaching articles to help you improve your table tennis skills. You can read more about my background on my About Tom page.

8 thoughts on “Unsporting ways to win points

  1. So true…..a player I compete against regularly serves illegal all the time ! His ignorant response for him to stop…..”I’m going to do it as long as I can get away with it” no wonder he no longer plays tournaments

  2. Great article and I do indeed recognize some of the behavior you mention, Tom. I would also assert that these antics occur more the higher the division I play in… I would strongly recommend a book entitled “Gamesmanship” by Stephen Potter first published in 1947. It is basically an essay in how to win without actually cheating. I employ many of the techniques in this book, but none of them work!

  3. Yes I recognise all of those types of behavior. I would add another, when a player who is losing and wants to stop the flow of play deliberately breaks the ball, causing a hold up whilst a new ball is found and the players have a few hits with it before resuming the game. I have had this happen to me twice and seen it on a couple of other occasions. The last time it happened to me was a couple of years ago whilst two sets and a number of points up in the third against a higher ranked player. He picked up the ball after losing another point pushed his finger through the ball breaking it whilst announcing to all that the ball was broken. It was not. In any case he should have handed it to the Umpire to decide. Needless to say I went on to lose that particular match. Still bugs me even now.

    • Naughty! I’ve not actually seen that happen before. That would annoy me. I once saw a player have a big tantrum about the quality of ball. He was losing at the time. He caused such a fuss that the ball was changed and he went on to win the match. The other player did not look impressed.

  4. Jiang Jialiang famously demanded an umpire change in his match against Jan Ove Waldner. And twelve-year-old sensation, Tomokazu Hariomoto frequently over-celebrates his points and sometimes barks before his opponent serves.

  5. There was once, my opponent thought the ball had hit the edge and he claimed he had won the point. I kinda had heart a very, very tiny sound, i was not really sure. I just said i didnt know whether the ball had touched the edge, or not. Even now, 2 years after, i feel

  6. Recently I played a guy who was giving a one sided running commentary during the match and towards the end “didn’t see my edge”, so instead of it being 10 – 6 to me I relented and let him have the point outright making it 9 – 7. I eventually won the best of 3 match 2 – 0 , but he refused to shake hands afterwards and then accused me of calling him a liar because I questioned his non sighting of the edge. He actually became very aggressive and abusive calling me names, and using words, that I cannot repeat here. The funny thing was I was going easy on him because I could have, but didn’t want to, completely thrash him on table, and this is a guy whose 64.!

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