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Please email questions to Paul Kovac - your friendly on-line USATT umpire.
Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.
This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:
2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.
The important part is:
"...so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."
The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.
Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.
I was in a doubles match. I was about to serve and presented the ball for an instant in my open palm above the table and behind the end line as required. Realizing that I had not told my partner what type of serve I was going to do, I withdrew my hand and turned to my partner to indicate the type of coming serve. At this point, my opponent friend said that since I had started the serve (presented the ball) and had failed to give a good serve, that I had to give him the point.
Garry asked whether the ball was actually in play, when the rule says: "The ball is in play from the last instant at which it is stationary on the palm of the server's free hand before being intentionally projected in service, and until the server has taken this action this instant is not defined."
Your situation should not cause a problem because the rule fully covers it. In plain language, the rule you quoted says that we shall know when was "the last instant at which it is stationary on the palm of the server's free hand before being intentionally projected in service" only when the toss was actually executed. Thus, no toss, no play. It is not only when you want to indicate to your partner the type of coming serve when you can have the ball stationary on your open palm behind the end line and above the plane of the table and NOT toss. You can simply change your mind and decide to serve from the other corner of your court, or you may see that there is a drop of sweat on the table and you want to remove it. The Laws of table Tennis are written with the understanding that every match has at least one qualified umpire at the table. That person see to it that the Laws are observed. According to the above, your action, as you describe it, does not call for any action by the umpire. The play should continue without any interruption.