From its early beginnings, the game of table tennis has changed through numerous phases that helped hone it into the kind of sport it is known today. At first, alterations like equipment development and rule changes have primarily offered improvements. Still, some obstacles popped up on the road to the development of the sport. Not that long ago, there was a big step taken: plastic ping pong balls.
The game season of 2014 to 2015 brought a radical brand new change to the table tennis sport. Plastic ping pong balls started to replace the celluloid balls for some of the most significant events under the ITTF’s tutorage, including the World Tour Tournaments, World Championships, as well as other major competitions.
It is quite surprising that the rise of plastic balls didn’t require changes in the rules since the rules don’t specify the specific material the ping pong ball should be made of. The rebound, diameter, and weight are the only ones specified.
Ping Pong Balls Then and Now
The change made in the material used for the balls can be understood in a much better context if you take a look at the evolution it went through overtime.
Back in 1900, the celluloid ball of 38mm became the new standard and it stayed this way until 2000 came when the larger ball of 40mm ousted this.
However, even prior to the date, a plastic ball was used for some time during the 1980s and even made an appearance at several big international events and many players rejected the plastic balls as unplayable. Up to this day, there were no additional attempts made to enhance this kind of ball.
Celluloid, on the other hand, was quickly turning into an obsolete material. For this reason alone it was replaced by plastic for all purposes it had except for the production of ping pong balls. There are only two factories in the whole world that produce celluloid. And this material is exclusively used for ping-pong balls. Both are based in China. Europe, on the other hand, shut down all celluloid ball factors totally since the production became too expensive.
To top it all, celluloid is a very flammable material. This makes it difficult and somewhat pricey to store and transport the balls. Thankfully, the rise of plastic materials has rendered celluloid obsolete. In other words, older materials were replaced with modern plastic.
The Switch From Celluloid To Plastic
This initiative came from the International Table Tennis Federation Equipment Committee. Together with the ITTF, one of the ball factories from China started to come up with its first-ever samples of plastic balls.
The plastic ball production of China called for completely new machinery and technology. A problem popped up right away. Due to the lack of seam of plastic balls, the current testing equipment and procedures were not able to exactly measure if the ball suited the approval demands of the ITTF. It was not necessary to alter the rules of the sport due to the material change. However, it did become essential to create new measuring devices. The result is that the new plastic balls were not approved by the ITTF right away.
There is one factory that produces plastic ping pong balls with no seam. There is also one German and one Japanese factory that produce plastic balls with seam.
Benefits And Downsides Of Plastic Ping Pong Balls
It was just logical that the continental events, as well as the majority of national events, followed right away. This means that celluloid remained to be used just in hobby matches and lower categories.
Plastic ping pong balls produce a completely different sound from celluloid balls. However, the most crucial difference between these two is plastic. Plastic has a harder surface that makes it impossible for the ball to spin a lot, unlike celluloid balls.
Aside from that, the quality and durability of plastic balls were originally quite poor.. However, this was not the case. There was still a need for the balls to be divided following production into four categories, from the lowest quality ping pong balls for practicing up to the finest quality ones meant for competitions. The unexpected differences in the quality of production was disappointing.
It was not too long ago when the factories have changed the initial plastic being used for the balls’ production with a brand new kind of plastic. That change was meant to address the existing concerns and make the balls more affordable at the same time. The truth is that the plastic ping pong balls have already made significant changes in the game. The most obvious ones being increased speed and less spin.