Ask The Ump: The Return and The ‘Bounce-Back-Ball’

Bounce Back BallThe Ask The Ump series is back and we’re talking about returns.  Specifically we are discussing a return in a very specific case, which I will call the ‘Bounce Back Ball’.  One of Edmonton Table Tennis Club’s (ETTC) resident umpires Harry Parenteau is on deck to answer our question.  Harry is a nationally certified umpire and most recently served as the Referee for the 2014 Edmonton Open Table Tennis Championships.  To start things off, let’s watch this video clip:

This match took place in a Champions League event between Niederösterreich (Austria) and Eslövs Al (Sweden) in 2014.  The blue player mishits the ball and it goes sailing high in the air with lots of backspin.  The ball lands on the red player’s side and bounces back to the blue player’s side without the red player touching it.  The red player just stares at the ball and doesn’t anticipate what I call the ‘Bounce Back Ball’.

Here are my questions for Harry:

Question:  Why is this particular point awarded to the blue player?

The blue player wins this point as the red player failed to make a correct return.  The blue player struck the ball so that it touched his opponent’s court.  The red player did not strike the ball before it touched his opponent’s court.

Question:  In this particular point, is there a way that the red player could have won the point?  If so, how?

Yes, the red player could have won the point.  To have won the point, the red player needed to strike the ball after it touched his court and before it touched his opponent’s court.  He failed to anticipate where the ball was going to touch and bounce.  If he had gone to the other side of the table he could have hit the ball either on its way up from his court, or on its way down towards his opponent’s.  He cannot hit the ball before it touches his court.  Hitting the ball before it first touches his court is obstructing the ball.

Question:  What are the boundaries for a player?  For example, must a player remain on his or her side of the table?  Or can he or she cross over to the other half of the table to strike the ball?

There are no boundaries for the player.  The player may move to his or her opponent’s side of the table to strike the ball.

To further illustrate the point, here is a point that I played against long time ETTC member Wayne Mah at a practice a few weeks ago.  I anticipated the ‘Bounce Back Ball’ situation and took matters into my own hands and executed a jumping smash.

There are four key things to know about the scenario discussed in this article:  Striking and Obstructing the Ball, the Return and a Point.  Understand these four things and you’ll be able to interpret scenarios like the ‘Bounce Back Ball’.  You can look up the definitions in the International Table Tennis Federation’s (ITTF) Handbook in the following sections:  Striking The Ball (page 26/sec 2.5.7);  Obstructing The Ball (page 26/sec 2.5.8);  The Return (page 27/sec 2.7);  A Point (page 28/sec 2.10).

If you are interested in becoming a certified umpire, it all starts with taking the Club Umpire’s exam.  Visit Table Tennis Canada’s website on umpiring and get on the path to certification.  Don Chan, John Gunraj, Harry Parenteau, Jonathan Lau and Mo Erbas are certified table tennis umpires at our club.  Collectively, they represent a vast wealth of officiating knowledge at the provincial, national and international levels.  If you have a question about any table tennis rules, ask them!

[UPDATE – March 19, 2015]

Youtube user Jo Haat captured another example of the ‘Bounce Back’ ball in action at a table tennis league somewhere in Finland.  In this case, the orange guy mishits the ball on the return of service.  It funny to note that the orange guy and the scorekeeper appear to know where the ball is, but the grey guy (opponent) does not.  As in the first video I showed above, the ball sails very high with heavy backspin, then lands just over the net on the opponent’s side, then bounces back.  Since the grey guy failed to execute a return (ITTF Laws, Sec 2.7), the rally is over and point awarded to the orange guy.  Here’s the video clip:

[UPDATE – March 22, 2015]

At the 2015 German Open (Bremen) another ‘Bounce Back’ ball situation happened in a semi-final match between German player Patrissa Solja and Chinese player Gu Ruochen.  In the midst of this rally, Gu mishits the ball and send it high with heavy backspin.  Solja recognizes that the ball will land close to the net and likely bounce back over to her opponent’s side of the table.  In order to win the point, Solja executes a legal return (ITTF Laws, Sec 2.7) by positioning herself on the opponent’s side of the table to smash the ball.  This is a good demonstration of the fact that either player may place themselves wherever they want to within the boundaries of the competition area.

Courtesy of ITTF

[UPDATE – June 8, 2015]

Courtesy of MrTheportal’s Facebook page, here’s yet another example of a successful return in a ‘bounce back’ ball situation.  The key to this is that you have to get into position to execute a successful return!

[UPDATE – December 21, 2015]

Courtesy of TTJanus and the ITTF, another example of the bounce back ball occurred at the 2015 Grand Finals in the Women’s Singles Semi-Final match between Chen Meng (China) and Jeon Jihee (Korea).  In this particular case Jeon did not anticipate the back spin on the ball and was not able to execute a legal return.

[UPDATE – January 1, 2016]

Courtesy of the Facebook page of table tennis commentator and playboy Adam Bobrow, here is a video of a service return winner on a bounce back ball.  Great job Adam!

[UPDATE – September 13, 2017]

And another example of the bounce back ball at an exhibition match between Ding Ning and Ma Long.

More articles in our ‘Ask The Ump’ series:

1.  The Expedite System

2.  To Yell Or Not To Yell

3.  The Player-Umpire Relationship

4.  Match Preparations

About J. Kim

Writing about #YEG table tennis happenings. Former nuclear submariner and avid table tennis player. Play ping pong & participate in the world's most popular sport.
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2 Responses to Ask The Ump: The Return and The ‘Bounce-Back-Ball’

  1. Kareem says:

    What about this return. Ball bounces on table, then back to clamp of net (legal part of net 2.1), Timo returns. To me it is legal, but he was not awarded
    the point. Was it umpire’s mistake?

    • J. Kim says:

      As you said in your reply, the ball bounces on the table THEN makes contact with the net clamp. In order for Timo Boll to execute a legal return, he must strike the ball after it bounces on the table and BEFORE it touches the net clamp. In the video you can clearly see that Boll returns the ball AFTER it touches the net clamp, therefore the rally is over and the point goes to Lin Gaoyuan.

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