Casual table tennis fans may not be familiar with a particular rule in the International Table Tennis Federation’s (ITTF) Laws of Table Tennis called The Expedite System. If you watched the spectacular women’s final between Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, you may or may not have noticed that The Expedite System was activated in game seven. What is The Expedite System and why is it necessary?
Per Section 2.15 of the ITTF Laws of Table Tennis, The Expedite System shall come into operation after 10 minutes’ play in a game or at any time requested by both players or pairs. However, the system shall not be introduced in a game if at least 18 points have been scored. During a game, the umpire (or assistant umpire) keeps track of total play time. When 10 minutes play time in a game is reached, the umpire institutes The Expedite System. If the ball is in play when the 10 minutes is reached, the umpire shall interrupt play and restart the point under the rules of The Expedite System. The Expedite System requires each player to alternate one serve (instead of two) at a time until the end of the game. If the receiving player makes 13 correct returns in a rally, the point is awarded to the receiver. Once introduced, The Expedite System shall remain in operation until the end of the match.
The history and evolution of The Expedite System is a long and winding road. Basically the system is intended to prevent excessively long matches and ensures that a match (and subsequently a tournament) moves along at a reasonable pace. This was a real concern in the early days of table tennis in the 1920’s and 1930’s when hardbats were in use and strategy was all about defense and control. At the 1936 World Championships a single point lasted over two hours and it wasn’t uncommon to see a match last 60 minutes or more. Officials took notice and instituted rules that imposed time limits on play. The system puts the onus on the server to be more aggressive and end the rally prior to the receiver executing 13 correct returns. At the recreational and club level of table tennis, The Expedite System is rarely activated. At the professional level, The Expedite System is instituted quite frequently when defensive (‘choppers’) players are involved. All About Table Tennis dot com provides a great look at the history and reasoning behind The Expedite System.
So let’s get back to the women’s final at the 2015 World Table Tennis Championships. Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen are the world’s number one and two ranked players respectively and are known for their close-to-the-table attacking style. The Expedite System being activated in a match between two attacking style players is quite rare, so how did game seven reach 10 minutes of play time? If you recall, Ding Ning sustained a serious ankle injury early in game seven when the score was 1 to 0, which required a lengthy time out to examine and treat. Some speculate that the time out, which lasted roughly ten minutes counted towards the time required to activate The Expedite System. In order to clear up some of the confusion, I reached out to Kirill Mazaev, the Head Referee at the 2015 World Table Tennis Championships. Here is what he had to say about the matter:
The expedite system has been introduced in accordance with the Laws of Table Tennis. Namely, 10 minutes of game was expired earlier than 18 points (9:9, 10:8) have been reckoned. Of course time of medical treatment (around 10 minutes) has been excluded from the ‘game time’. The stopwatch was (sic) been stopped as usual only during the towel breaks (after each 6 points) and during the change of ends after 5th point in the 7th game. Also it should be stopped if the ball leaves the court, I do not unfortunately remember if it has happened or not. The umpire and assistant umpires are responsible for taking time.
When Ms. Ding Ning has been injured, she can walk only very slowly. Thus, even she came towards the end of the court to retrieve, it took much more time then usually (under normal condition there might be a yellow card for delaying the game, but of course not in this case due to the injury). Therefore, 10 minutes was expired before 18 points were scored and the expedite system has been applied. It is first such a case in my life when it is applied for a match between two attacking player. In my eyes, there were little chances to prevent this since Ms. Ding Ning cannot physically walk faster.
At 8 points to 6 in game seven in the women’s final, with The Expedite System in effect, you can clearly hear an umpire call out the receiver’s stroke count:
Courtesy of the ITTF and ttlondon2012
The match continued on with Ding and Liu alternating one serve at a time until the match finished. Will we ever see The Expedite System implemented between two attacking players on such an important stage? Probably not, but it was interesting nonetheless to see it happen.
So what does it look like when The Expedite System is in effect and the receiver executes 13 correct returns? Here is a rally between Sayaka Hirano (Japan) and Park Mi Young (South Korea) at the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Moscow, Russia:
Courtesy of the ITTF and VS08540
Another example of The Expedite System took place in the round of 16 at the 2009 World Table Tennis Championships in Yokohama, Japan. With game seven tied at 7 points, Singapore’s Feng Tianwei battled Republic of Korea’s Park Mi Young in a thrilling battle of attacker vs defender:
Courtesy of the ITTF and VS08540
In the semi-finals of the 2014 China Open, Ding Ning engaged in a memorable match against country mate and world’s best women’s defensive player Wu Yang. The Expedite System was put into action:
Courtesy of SarmaikTT
Do you remember that match between Ai Fukuhara and Hu Limei at the 2014 Swedish Open? It was a competitive match, but it is remembered for one point in particular, a point that many have called the ‘Longest Table Tennis Rally of All Time’. At 8 points to 7 in game seven, the rally lasted nearly a minute and a half and 117 strokes before the umpire called the rally to a halt before the point was decided. At that point in the game, 10 minutes of play time had elapsed, so the umpire halted play so that The Expedite System could be activated:
Courtesy of the ITTF
The previous four examples of The Expedite System involved an attacking style player against a defensive style player. Here is an example of The Expedite System between two defensive style players. Due to the style of play that is associated with defensive players, you can guess that The Expedite System was instituted quite early in the match. Remember that once the system is activated, it stays that way for the rest of the match. Interesting to see the strategy involved in the expedite system when it’s two defensive players involved. The server knows that she needs to end the rally prior to reaching 13 correct returns by the receiver. The receiver play defensively, attempting to reach 13 returns while the server picks her moment to aggressively end the rally. Notable defensive players Li Qian of Poland and Li Jie of the Netherlands engage in an exciting battle under The Expedite System. As you can expect from two solid defensive players, the system was activated quite early in the match:
Courtesy of ttCountenance
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