Forhand topspin – point – next serve. But before the player continues, he briefly goes to the middle of the table and wipes his hand over the tabletop. Anyone who has ever seen a professional table tennis match has probably observed this. But why do the players do this? In this post, you will find out!
There are several reasons why players wipe their hands over the table:
- Wipe off sweat,
- Take a breather
- Routine & Ritual
So there is not the one right answer.
Find out more about each reason further down in the post!
Here’s a little overview:
Reason 1 – Wipe off sweat
The first reason is obvious. In a heated and competitive game, it frequently happens that a lot of sweat accumulates on the racket hand. This can cause the racket to get a little slippy in the hand.
Unlike with other racquet sports, most players don’t have a grip tape but hold the paddle by the wooden handle, which quickly becomes slippy with a little sweat.
To prevent losing ball control like this, it has become established practice for players to wipe the sweat off on the tabletop next to the net.
Are you not allowed to wipe off the sweat with a towel?
Why wipe your hands on the plate when you also have a towel? In principle, you may use a towel but only after every 6 points played or if the game is interrupted.
So if you have sweaty hands again after just 3 points, you need to wipe your hands on the board.
Why wipe sweat off next to the net?
The answer is simple: ideally, you wipe the sweat off where the ball is least likely to hit. If you were to wipe the sweat off at the baseline, there is a great risk that the ball will not bounce as usual from the wetter spots on the table during the next rally.
To prevent that from happening, the players go to the front of the net to do it.
Originally, the players’ behavior comes from wanting to wipe away sweat. But now there are far more reasons why they swipe their hands across the board.
Reason 2 – Take a breather
Table tennis is extremely demanding – Yes, really! Professional players burn up to 650 calories in an hour (read more here). That’s precisely why players use the walk to the net as a small breather.
After an intense rally, the seconds gained to take a quick breath can be crucial for the next point.
Reason 3 – Tactics and psychological tricks
As with all racket sports, table tennis is primarily about your own nerves. Small insecurities are punished immediately. Especially when the momentum is not in their favor during the last points, many players would go touch the tabletop.
Often the point here is just not really to wipe away sweat. Much more the players use the short time to give the opponent a little “forced break” and interrupt his run.
So going to the net often serves as a tactical means here, resembling a small “time-out”. Often you can even observe how the player seeks eye contact with the opponent on the way to the net. So playing mind games definitely plays a role here.
Reason 4 – Concentration and focus
One of the most important reasons table tennis players go ahead and sweep the table is the effect on the players’ concentration. The short time is used to think about the next points.
Where are the weaknesses of the opponent? What mistakes have I made before? Which serve do I choose for the next point? The players go through these and other questions in their heads before they step up to the table with a regained focus ready for the next point.
Even in tricky and intense matches, it is important to keep a cool head. Going to the net is one of the ways players manage to do that even during sets.
Reason 5 – Routine and ritual
As is so often the case with sports, superstition also plays a small part in the matter. Table tennis pros have been playing since they were little. So many have made it a habit from a young age to briefly touch the table before every point.
So to speak as a small ritual before each point. The players are so used to this routine that it almost happens unconsciously and automatically for many.
For many, it would be completely unusual not to wipe the board with their hand. Many players simply need this ritual for their own “flow” before each point.
Are you allowed to touch the plate during rallies?
That you are allowed to wipe the tabletop between points is clear but what about during rallies? Basically, the table may be touched with any part of the body except the free hand. However, it is important that the plate is not moved.
Theoretically, then, players could quickly wipe the sweat off the table even between shots. Practically, however, you don’t really see that.
Especially at major events like the Olympics, where many people watch table tennis who otherwise have no interest in the sport, the question of why players touch the table with their hands comes up very frequently.
I have seen all kinds of theories being put forth as to why this is the case. The answers from this post show that there is not just one reason. Why a player actually wipes across the board, he only knows himself at that moment.